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Guwahati: With tensions between India and Canada at an all-time high, a new tea brand christened as Defy Tea, which has an electronic chip for traceability and validation, aims to improve this souring relationship.

Defy Tea is being launched in Canada by Aromica Tea, owned by Ranjit Baruah of Assam, and his friend Vilayat Ahmed of Defy Tea in Canada.

“We are all set to launch our teas in Canada equipped with an electronic chip for traceability and validation. As tension mounts between India and Canada, two friends from these two countries come together to join hands and promote Assam (Indian teas) through teas in Canada,” Ranjit Baruah, director of Aromica Tea, told EastMojo.

“This will be the first electronically traceable packaging chip. With product authenticity and traceability becoming increasingly important concerns for consumers, businesses, and regulators alike, it will have the ability to track our tea’s journey from farm to cup – from the source to our consumers. It will bring our customers closer to our producers and help them understand the journey of the tea they are drinking. It will provide a sense of transparency and build trust with our consumers,” Vilayat Ahmed of Defy Tea told EastMojo.

He says it will help connect the small tea farmers of Assam and the end-users, the consumers in Canada and North America, providing details such as the name of the farm, origin, leaf type, variant, plucking season, blended by, ingredients, etc. “This will help in creating awareness and highlight that the world is missing out on authentic Assam teas,” he added.

The tea has been sourced from small tea growers in Assam.

When asked about the present India-Canada relations, which are going through a rough phase, Vilayat said everything in the world can be settled over a ‘cuppa’ and would love to see this souring relationship get better with a cup of Defy tea.

“Tea bushes can survive over a hundred years and continue to yield green leaves for as long. They are resilient, can survive pests and diseases, withstand gale winds, torrential rains, and drought. Tea bushes have stood the test of time, seen changes in weather patterns, wars and conflicts, as well as the evolution of the global tea industry and manufacturing practices and standards.

“All this to say that, unlike the tea bushes, leaders will come and go, and the political climate will change as it always does. What will not change is a great cup of CHAI!” Vilayat said.

The technical expertise behind the electronic chip has been provided by LW3, a startup from Assam that is implementing ‘India’s 1st Phygital Product Passport for Assam Tea’ in association with Aromica Tea, to provide phygital provenance using a combination of passive IoT devices and blockchain.

“Traditional methods of providing product genuineness have been done through QR Codes/Hologram/Bar Codes, etc. These methods are easily cloneable, and with some effort, they could be easily duplicated. Also, the data is generally stored in centralized servers, which in turn is not immutable,” says Abhijit Pegu of LW3.

Abhijit highlights the startup’s use of passive IoT devices in product packaging with encrypted metadata and clone restriction, emphasising their unique offering of non-duplicable IoT devices and blockchain-based data credibility, enabling various functions like provenance, tracing, and post-sale customer interaction for product companies.

The startup uses the public blockchain Algorand Blockchain Network to bring transparency and immutability features that will make the system trust-less and more credible.

Reports say by implementing blockchain-enabled authentication of products, businesses could reap financial benefits ranging from 7% to 12% of revenues.

Bungalow mates: Both Ranjit and Vilayat were “bungalow mates” at Monabarie tea estate. “It was at Monabarie TE, a month from joining, is when Ranjit Baruah joined me as Welfare Officer as well. Ranjit and I were roommates, actually ‘Bungalow mates’. As it turned out, both of us shared the facilities of the bungalow that was provided by the company, which included a few staff members who ensured we had food on our table, took care, and maintained the bungalow as per company standards and helped us be comfortable,” Vilayat says, who joined Monabarie Tea Estate as a Management Trainee under Williamson Magor Company in 1999.

“We shared our learning and compared notes and tried to better ourselves to learn the art of tea making. Ranjit brought his knowledge and expertise of botany and agriculture and helped me settle down in an environment that was alien to me. We would work in shifts, starting the factory at midnight and then relieving each other at 4-hour intervals. We would end up closing the factory around 8 pm and then start all over again in a few hours. After having worked in many tea gardens, he left Assam for Canada in 2007. ‘It was in April 2007 with a faint heart I handed in my resignation to move to Canada,’ he says.

How did the idea for Defy Tea start: “The idea of Defy tea originated when Covid was at its peak, and everyone was doing things that we thought we would never do. It brought all of us closer, helped us understand that life was short and that we need to make the most of it. Most importantly, it made us more resilient than ever before. Having worked at Starbucks for nearly 15 years since coming to Toronto, Canada, and navigating between coffee and tea, I always wanted to showcase the teas from Assam,” Vilayat says.

He acknowledged that Assam teas often lived in the shadow of those from Darjeeling, Sri Lanka, Kenya, China, etc., and had been underrated for some time. The perfect opportunity to address this arose when he reconnected with Ranjit on LinkedIn, he further said. Inspired by Ranjit’s work and Aromica’s beginnings, they reunited after nearly 20+ years.

“That said, being an ex-planter who has walked the walk, tilled the soil, planted the sapling to see it grow into a tea bush makes it personal for me. After multiple calls and zoom sessions with Ranjit and my partner Simon Nasr, Defy tea was born. Defy tea – the name in itself – Defy against all odds – disrupt and challenge to do things that haven’t been attempted before,” he said.

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Vilayat says Defy tea is all about being ‘steeped in tradition and blended in nature’. “Our vision is to be the ‘Beacon of premium teas from Assam.’ This will be done with a 3 P’s (three-pronged) approach: – Procure quality teas from various small tea growers within the state of Assam, Preserve the traditions and indigenous ways of producing and manufacturing teas within Assam, and Provide an international hub to small local tea producers and farmers to showcase their products in North America.

Tea is the third most popular beverage in Canada, with 48% consuming it daily, somewhere to the tune of 1.2 cups a day, which is 1/3rd of hot beverages consumed in Canada. “Regionally, the Northeast/Atlantic Canadians consume more tea than any other province in Canada. That said, given the diverse demographic and multicultural population, we are optimistic that we have a huge market. Canada is also part of the Commonwealth countries where the early settlers and immigrants are from Ireland, Scotland, England, etc., that goes a long way in influencing the tea-drinking culture in Canada,” he said.

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