We had the good fortune of connecting with Raj Vable and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Raj, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
When I started Young Mountain Tea in 2013, it was with a promise: if a remote Himalayan non-profit would organize farmers to grow tea, I’d setup a company in the US to sell it. Our goal was to solve the interrelated issues of urban migration, land degradation, and climate change that threaten mountain communities very existence.
As urban migration rips apart agricultural Himalayan communities, once-rich farmland is deteriorating into lifeless dirt. Much of this dirt is exposed to the air, releasing nutrients, sequestered carbon, and moisture to the mountain winds. As the soils are weakened, they are increasingly vulnerable to deadly landslides, which commonly destroy entire communities in seconds. By converting fallow hillsides into thriving organic tea gardens, we’re helping farmers plant thousands of new tea tree saplings. The tea plant is a tree whose roots grow into the mountains, and by using organic and regenerative practices like no-till farming, planting perennials, and multi cropping, the lands will be revitalized. The stronger soils will prevent the erosion that triggers the landslides.
And finally, the hardy tea tree lives up to 200 years, locking carbon into soils throughout its long life. Since it is a perennial, the plant reduces tillage of land that would otherwise either lay fallow or be plowed for replanting of annuals like rice. Eventually, we hope to sell carbon offsets that support the planting of additional tea saplings that will be required as the regions grows.
Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
We’re a mission-driven social enterprise, meaning we exist to solve social and environmental problems through business. Boot-strapping an international importing business that’s developing both ends of the supply chain — the growing of tea in the Himalayas and the development of a market for high-end teas in the US — has been a challenging and incredibly rewarding balance act. There have been many times when setbacks have made me question if I was smart to level a stable, well=paying career track in electrical engineering for the entrepreneurial journey. And every time, when I think about the impact this work is having for our partner farmers in India and Nepal, and how lucky I am to work with a talented and driven team here in the US, and I know I’ve made the right decision. I’ve always believed that life is short, and should feel like a grand adventure. My journey with Young Mountain Tea has been the most exciting adventure I can imagine.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Well, interestingly, we offer guided trips to India! We’d land in Delhi, spend a day touring the sites and eating at the best restaurants, including Cafe Lota, which serves a refreshing spiced yogurt dish called palaak pata chaat, and eat street side samosas smothered in hot garbanoza curry and topped with cilantro, tamarind, and mint. Then we’d go to the Taj Mahal, where my good friend Arif would give us a tour and show us the secret spots to take top-quality picutres. The next day, we’d wake up early and take a train ride into the Himalayas, where our farmer partner Desmond would pick us up and then bring us another 7 hour ride to his home, a farmstead perched on the top of a hillside. We’d feast on fresh cream, apricot jam, and all sorts of incredible dishes made by his wife with vegetables and fruit straight from their organic garden. The next day, we’d tour his family’s tea garden, walking through a beautiful oak forest teeming with howler monkeys and birds, then visit the facility where tea is processed, and help out with bringing in hundreds of pounds of fresh tea. The next day, we’d visit the villages surrounding his farmstead and drink chai with women farmers who would laugh and ask us to dance with them. Then, we’d begin the return journey to Delhi, completing the long day of travel in reverse; driving out of the mountains, then the train ride back to Delhi. On our last day in-country, we’d go to visit my cousin Akhil, who’d take us for drinks at a swanky open-air terrace bar, where we’d meet his friends and bask in the wonderfully full week of international travel we just completed. Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Yes, please! Two of my mentors are Rashmi Bharti and Rajnish Jain, the co-founders of Avani, the Himalayan non-profit that said they’d work to grow tea if I setup a company to sell it. From the beginning, they have encouraged me to take the leap of faith, and offered me sage advice at every step of the way, on both personal and professional levels.
Young Mountain Tea