Tea has become a household staple over the years in Bangladesh. So it’s no surprise that our country is the 10th largest producer of tea worldwide and accounts for 3 per cent of the global production. This is to be credited to the fertile soil and suitable weather which helped in producing about 95 million kilograms of tea over the last year alone. The country’s history with tea preludes to the British period with 80 per cent of the 164 existing tea estates being established at the time. It is safe to say that tea has been heavily integrated into our culture. Consumers are only on the rise due to many health benefits it offers, including but not limited to boosting our immune system. In the era of coffee culture, one person took it upon himself to revive the heritage and reintroduce tea in a different fashion.
Here is the story of how Shamim Khan, Managing Director at Halda Valley Tea, set out to sophisticate and nurture the tea culture with their product completely grown in our homeland. Here is his take on with Alvia Zaman Shristy of COLORS.
Dr Shamim Khan left his medical career as an MS resident in Orthopedic surgery in 2014 to devote himself fully to the cure and rehabilitation of disabled children. The same year he funded LMRF Healthcare, a nonprofit organization working with the mission to eliminate physical disabilities like clubfoot, cleft lip & palate, and also provides services like physiotherapy and rehabilitation. Currently, they are functioning across four districts – Noakhali, Chattogram, Brahmanbaria, and Cumilla and have served more than 6000 disabled children since inception.
Along with his healthcare service, he was driven by his shared passion for tea with Md. Nader Khan, his father, has been at the helm of 14 different companies. Together with both his sons, Md. Nader runs a wide range of renowned business companies such as Pedrollo NK Limited, PNL Holdings Limited, and the Halda Valley Tea Company Limited. Alongside founding the Halda Valley Tea Company, he is involved in philanthropy.
Journey to the Top
The premium quality tea estate operates in the valleys by the picturesque bank of Halda River, hence, the name Halda Valley Tea. In 2003, out of pure passion, Md Nader Khan invested in a barren and remote tea garden which seemed impractical from a business point of view. The road to success was long and exciting, recalls Shamim Khan. They built an empire from scratch and for the last five years in a row have been the highest yielding tea garden. In 2020 alone, they have produced thrice as much as the national average production. Currently, the available Speciality Tea variants of Halda Valley in the market are Golden Eyebrow Black Tea, Dragon Well Green Tea, Silver Needle White Tea, and the Red Rode Oolong Tea. The brand is dedicated to producing speciality tea using the same technology as China, whose immaculate tea culture constantly acts as an inspiration for them. Available now in 25 districts of Bangladesh, more prominently in Dhaka, Chattogram, Sylhet, Pabna and Cox’s Bazar – they are highly hailed by their valued customers. In October 2019 they established one of its kind Halda Valley Tea Lounge in Gulshan, Dhaka. Their products are also available at the duty-free shop under the Bangladesh Tea Board at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
Tackling the Hurdlesenroute
Starting from investing in an estate that was not financially feasible and quite inaccessible in 2003, the company has exhibited exponential growth. When they took over, there was no plantations insight. Now they are the highest yielding tea garden. On their way to the top, various hurdles had to be tackled. Halda Valley Tea ventured into a market already hoarded by established foreign brands. True to its original packaging as well as the unique colour and flavour of the product, it took some time to gain customer approval. But soon enough, they were all on board. Md.Nader Khan had envisioned placing their product in the global market. He utilized all the space to ensure maximum productivity. Along with conventional fertilizers, they are using organic fertilizers in the nursery and new plantations to ensure the best nourishment. Alongside that, they have an introduced greenhouse horticulture system made of UV nets for the best care and protection of young plants. When faced with rainfall scarcity, they managed to adapt by providing smart solutions to their irrigation problems. Other tea estates followed their footsteps. Their company PNL Holdings brought in advanced technology and helped propel not only their business but others in the community as a whole. The motto was to be productive and they strongly believed that it would lead to feasibility.
In the last decade, Bangladesh’s GDP [gross domestic product] has seen significant growth. This has led to among other things more travelling opportunities, a trend which in turns has broadened our horizons. China remains one of the most visited destinations. Here, people have acquired a taste for what is known as speciality tea.
Speciality tea refers to high-grade loose-leaf minimally processed tea originating from a single tea estate. Our market imports more as opposed to export in the speciality tea sector. The racks at super shops like Unimart, Agora and Meena Bazar are filled with foreign tea brands like Twinings, Hyson and Taylors of Harrogate. Hence, to cater to the needs of Bangladesh is who has taken a keen interest in tea, Dr Shamim Khan targeted a niche crowd. They were the first homegrown speciality tea brand to enter this competitive and premium value market. The road to becoming the first speciality tea brand of Bangladesh, that too starting with a barren garden, was filled with challenges.
Pièce de résistance
When asked what sets them apart, Dr Shamim right away said that it was the quality of the product itself. Halda Valley Tea is sold in loose-leaf form instead of the more common crushed form; they are made from the finest buds and leaves of Camellia and undergoes minimal but meticulous processing. Even their regular black tea offers a distinctive, consistent flavour. All their products come from their own estates. Their Halda Valley Black Tea brand is of a dryer mouth (DM) variant which means it effectively skips part of the sorting process, resulting in a mix that is rough and leafy and looks very different from the typical tea available in the market. This gives their tea a unique, unmatched flavour. At Halda Valley, they are always focused on quality, brand perception, packaging and customer care. In order to enhance customer experience and get feedback they recently opened a customer service call centre as well.
Regular tea ceremonies and tea talks are held at the Halda Valley Tea Lounge. In order to provide the guests with the ultimate tea experience, the staffers are well-trained and knowledgeable about the testing notes and health benefits of their products. Professional tea makers from all over the country will be brought in and live tea stations will be set up in the future. Taking guided tea tours to their Chattogram estates and staying at their bungalows to see their production process up close and personal will become available in the next couple of months.
Halda Valley tea is already exported to Kuwait, England and in bulk to China after having effectively entered the market with other foreign brands. The company is already in conversation with companies in America, Japan, Russia and Thailand about export. Buyers from the Middle East are also taking a keen interest in them. They are set to launch their products in Europe and America in the coming months. After successfully creating a high-value tea market for Bangladeshi consumers, they have already created a nationwide network. Their goal is to make their products available in at least 40 districts by the end of the year. Apart from Dhaka, Chattogram, Shylhet their primary targets being Bogura, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Khulna, Jashore, Barishal and Cumilla districts. Their next tea variant: Iron Goddess Oolong Tea is set to be launched in April.
Praises from the Prime Minister and the President
Post-launch, Halda Valley Tea quickly became popular among foreign expatriates. Travellers often purchase them as souvenirs. The Bangladesh Tea Board highly recommends Halda Valley Tea based on their quality and presentation. Hence they are set to showcase at the High Commission of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in London, England, on March 26 on the occasion of Bangladesh’s Independence Day. The Honorable President and the Prime Minister have eulogized Halda Valley.