Whether you brew it with ginger to fight sleepy mornings, or steep spices in it to soothe a cold — it is the perfect antidote to everything. With milk, without milk, with a hint of lemongrass, a sprinkle of cardamom, refreshing undertones of mint, or laden with sugar. No matter how you drink your tea, it is what bolsters busy mornings, adds pep to slow afternoons, and plays silent spectator to hours of conversation with co-workers, friends and family. And Flipkart chai lovers are no different.
In fact, as a nation India consumes an incredible 837,000 tons of tea every year! While everyone has their own special way of brewing the perfect cup, the tin-roofed tea stalls that dot our streets unite all chai lovers. What you often find is a giant saucepan perpetually on the boil and tiny cups of chai being filled with strong, sweet tea at dizzying speeds.
Most people have their favorite tea seller, and it’s no wonder that Mohammed Imran, proprietor of In Fresh Tea, has quite a fan following. He’s been a Flipkart chai partner since 2011 and always has an anecdote or a nugget of advice to serve alongside his fabulous tea. While Imran is the stuff role models are made of, he wasn’t always sure of where life would take him.
Turning up the heat — Imran’s modest beginnings
The youngest of eight siblings, Imran was a toddler when his family relocated to Bengaluru. Dire financial circumstances meant that he could not study past the class 9, despite his interest in academics. Imran had to drop out of school in his teens and took up a job at a mechanic’s garage. What followed was a stint helping his mother go from home to home, administering polio drops and vaccinations.
Both his determination to support his family and his desire to marry the girl he loved, pushed him towards a stable job — and Imran decided to set up his own tea shop. “I asked my extended family for financial help, but no one was convinced that I could pull it off. Eventually, my mother borrowed the money for me,” he recounts. Early days in the business meant long hours, back-breaking work and meager resources. “My days started at 5 am and ended at 11 pm, with just an hour’s break for lunch and a quick conversation with my mother,” he remembers fondly.
On a rolling boil: How Imran became a Flipkart chai partner
“I still remember the days when Sachin [Bansal] Sir used to come to my shop for tea,” Imran says with a grin. It was then that he started delivering about 20 cups of tea, thrice a day, on his trusty bicycle, and managed his shop alongside. For three months he steadily made a loss.
Imran was riddled with worry until Sujeet Kumar, a former employee of Flipkart, told him that it takes time to make a profit, and there’s no point giving up. “That was sound advice!” says Imran. “As Flipkart grew, so did my business. I started supplying more cups of tea and I became a favorite with all the employees.”
He adds, “I’ve been fortunate to have Flipkart employees root for me, no matter what.”
Sweetening the brew: Get to know the businessman with a big heart
As Imran talks, it isn’t hard to see that hard work and pride mean everything to him. “I am always ready to work hard. Be it 20 cups of tea or 12,000, I ensure that I serve tea on time,” he says. “The quality of tea is very important to me, too. Whether it is fresh milk, tea leaves from Assam, or the chai masala that my mother makes, In Fresh Tea serves only the best. I may not make exponential profits, but I’ve gained a lot of respect and love while serving everyone at Flipkart chai. Helping people and doing good work is more important.”
Imran says that he has always balanced his work with helping others in need. From providing fellow Flipkart staff with small loans and feeding the elderly and homeless, to volunteering at NGOs — Imran draws joy from building other people up.
“I don’t mean to boast, but I’ve helped 114 people find houses on rent,” he says with a broad smile. And the love is mutual! Once, I was on leave and another tea vendor reached the Flipkart office,” recounts Imran. “Before they let him in, the guards called me to find out what was going on. Such is the loyalty and love I’ve been blessed with.”
The making of a perfect brew: Imran’s story is still steeping
“As In Fresh Tea did well, things started looking up for me. I went from riding a cycle to owning a two-wheeler. Most importantly, I was able to marry the woman I fell in love with and we now have two sons,” says Imran delightedly. Today, he even has a fleet of autos and a car for his business.
Imran has been able to marry off his sisters and is currently building a house for his parents. “I want to be able to comfortably fund my children’s education, and ensure that I can build a recreation room for them as well,” he shares.
So, does the man whose tea powers Flipsters indulge in a bit of online shopping, too?
“Yes! I regularly shop from Flipkart,” he says with a chuckle. “I’ve bought two phones for myself and have gifted my mother and wife mobiles too,” Imran adds. An iron, a washing machine and a television are just a few of the 85-odd products that Imran has ordered for himself and on behalf of his family.
Incidentally, it happens to be Imran’s 29th birthday on the day that we meet him, and it’s evident that his wisdom is far beyond his years. As large-hearted and kind as Imran is, he has a profound understanding of the business.
“Service, quality and my willingness to cater to your needs — no matter what they are — is what sets me apart from any other tea vendor,” declares Imran. “Even it comes to charging ₹2 and serving green tea, I’m never going to quit being Flipkart’s chai partner. After all, the love I’ve received is immeasurable!”
Thank you for the Flipkart chai, Mohammed Imran. May your cup of joy overflow!
Photographs by Arjun Paul
Studio34 podcast recorded by Anand Vijayasimha