In a remarkable step towards sustainability, a small tea kiosk on Madurai's busy West Masi Street has been serving tea in edible teacups. Here, customers can sip their tea in chocolate-flavoured biscuit cups and munch on it when they are done, with all the fervours of a biscuit dipped in a hot cup of tea.
The RS Pathy Nilgiri Tea kiosk in the city has been serving its customers' tea in edible cups for over a month now.
"Each cup can hold 60 ml of hot tea for 10 minutes. When we eat the cup, we get the satisfaction of eating 2-3 biscuits," Vivek Sabapathy, 34, Managing Director of RS Pathy & Co. tells The Logical Indian.
Since its launch on June 15, the shop has been selling a minimum of 500 cups a day, claims Vivek. The cups are similar to wafer cones used to serve ice creams with a slight amount of chocolate.
RS Pathy & Co was started in 1909 by Vivek's great grandfather, R Sabapathy, and primarily been manufacturing 15 natural products such as balms and oils for healthcare. After Vivek, a fourth-generation member of the business family took over the company, they began manufacturing RS Pathy Nilgiri Tea powder.
"We launched this tea in 2012. This is a natural tea, which is not blended. And it has its own property and taste," says Vivek.
In 2015, they put up a small tea shop in their family outlet in Madurai, with the motive to prepare tea using their own tea powder and sell it to the public. At the shop, they also sell their tea powder.
However, in 2019, the Tamil Nadu government banned single-use plastics, which prompted Vivek to come up with an alternative, as back then, they were selling tea in plastic cups.
"During the ban, we were thinking of some alternative to the plastic cups. If it's a reusable glass, people are worried about the hygiene of used glass. So, we thought of doing something different and the first idea that popped up is using clay cups, like those available across North India," recalls Vivek.
While they were selling the tea in these cups as 'Tandoor Tea', they wanted to start using edible cups.
Partnering With Edco India
It was during his search for manufacturers of edible cups that Vivek came across Edco India on LinkedIn. The Hyderabad-based company was founded in 2017 by 26-year-old Rohan Panmani, with an aim to explore innovative products in the wafer and biscuit segment. Meanwhile, the parent company, R&D Engineers, manufactures machines for these products.
"Instead of using plastic cups, we wanted to encourage people to shift from single-use plastic to something which was more eco-friendly. In 2019, we launched biscuit cups, in which you could serve liquid directly. We came out with these cups in two flavours - chocolate and vanilla," Rohan tells The Logical Indian.
In October, they tied up with a milkshake company as a trial. Later, they partnered with a few coffee shops in Kolkata and other places in India. By early March, they sent the samples to Vivek for trial.
"We contacted Edco India and they made a sample. We carried out trials to see how much time it could hold hot tea and then we introduced this in Madurai on June 15," says Vivek.
While they had initially planned to launch in March 2020, because of the nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19, they had to postpone their plans.
Vivek says that there are three advantages to using these edible biscuit cups.
"One, we are not throwing any waste to the environment, which is the major advantage. Second is hygiene - since tea is served in fresh biscuit cups, there are no concerns regarding hygiene. Third, when we eat the cup, it gives the same effect of having biscuits soaked in tea," explains Vivek.
Priced at ₹20 each, the beverage in edible cups has already earned a fan following in Madurai.
"While the edible cups were introduced as just a variant to the reusable clay cups, to our surprise, the people were strongly addicted to it and the response was huge," he adds.
The cups then went viral in no time, with many customers coming in, taking selfies and posting on social media.
"Although a small shop, the Tandoor tea here was already famous and we decided to try the biscuit tea after seeing a Facebook post. We loved how the biscuit cup was crispy even after drinking the tea. All the cups here are either made of clay or biscuit, which we felt was great," said Muthukumar and Banu Priya, travel vloggers based in Madurai.
Challenges Along The Way
Prior to the launch, Vivek faced several hurdles along the way, a major one being breakage of the cups in transportation.
"This is a highly fragile material. So, during the transit, 30% to 40% of my shipment got broken," says Vivek.
However, Edco India was quick to resolve the issue with their innovative packaging.
"In courier services, the handling is not in our control. So, we innovated on the packaging and came out with a new packaging were irrespective of how the box is handled, it should reach our customers safely. We use corrugated boxes with a special design for this purpose. Basically, we drew inspiration from how glass and other products are packed and came out with this package" explains Rohan.
With this innovative packaging that ships the cups in sealed packs of six, the breakdown has now come down drastically, to almost nil, adds Rohan.
Currently, due to delayed deliveries amid the COVID-19 crisis, Vivek is unable to supply the demand for the shop. When the situation betters, he is hoping to introduce more flavours, along with tying up with Edco India as a stockist for Tamil Nadu.
At present, Edco India is selling cups of a single size in two flavours. Going ahead, they are planning to introduce the cups in more flavours and multiple sizes.