A cup of hot tea holds more than just a strong, aromatic liquid. In its nearly infinite mutability, the beverage has served as a tonic, a centerpiece to social gatherings and even as the spark of a political revolution. For Nishchal Banskota '15, a cup of his company’s tea holds the product of a small business and its commitment to corporate responsibility.
Operating out of his home in Jersey City, N.J., Banskota manages Nepal Tea LLC’s operations. In the beginning, he devoted much of his time to creating tea blends from scratch by experimenting with bases and flavors. He also named the blends, drawing inspiration from his home country of Nepal.
In addition to black, green, white and oolong tea, Nepal Tea offers unique blends such as Buddha’s Blend, a white tea with hints of orange, cinnamon and ginger; and Citrus Grove, a zesty white tea flavored with lemongrass, orange, lemon and lime. Customers can choose between loose leaf and tea bags.
Banskota works hard to get his tea on store shelves, which involves identifying potential vendors and preparing samples. His pitch is that Nepal Tea isn’t just any cup of tea: it’s high quality, and you’re also giving back with every cup you buy. The tea is fair trade and certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“People are fascinated by the story,” he said. “Our model is a fun experiment that they get to join."
The tea leaves come from Banskota’s family’s tea estate and research center founded by his father in the 1980s, which means he can cut out the middleman and distribute directly to retailers. The estate, located in eastern Nepal at an altitude of 1,300–1,800 meters, lies at the foothills of Mount Kanchanjangha.
Eight stores in New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Massachusetts sell Nepal Tea, including The Stable, Colby-Sawyer’s store in Ware Student Center.
“One way to meet the goals of the store is to showcase what makes the Colby-Sawyer family unique,” said Alison Seward, store manager. “I really liked the samples Nishchal gave me, and I liked the idea of selling products made by alumni.” The tea has been a popular product since she started selling it last spring.
Nepal Tea was established in March 2016, but Banskota’s interest in integrating social responsibility with business began when he was a student.
Banskota arrived at Colby-Sawyer in 2011 as a business administration major with a concentration in accounting and finance, and he had every intention of becoming a certified public accountant. By his senior year, however, studying the liberal arts had changed his heart.
In 2014, Banskota and several other Colby-Sawyer students traveled to Nepal to volunteer at the country’s first free private school. The trip revealed to Banskota the reality of poverty, but it also gave him hope that small initiatives can alleviate inequalities. When he returned to school, he wondered how he could make a difference with his business degree.
Just weeks before Banskota graduated, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Nepal. New degree in hand, he returned home to help rebuild the country and reassess his career plan.
Six months later, he decided to establish Nepal Tea and fulfill his father’s dream of bringing the family’s tea to the United States. In doing so, Banskota expanded the estate’s ability to provide opportunities such as educational scholarships to the children of the tea farmers who work there (2,300 scholarships so far), and housing for their families.
Banskota describes launching Nepal Tea as “intense.” While working on the project, he lived with his brother without a source of income and devoted all his time to his business.
“It was difficult watching my classmates get jobs and make stable incomes,” said Banskota. “At the same time, I knew this was going to grow into something big.”
Banskota worked closely with Associate Professor of Business Administration Chris Kubik during this time. The two had served together on the committee that helped Colby-Sawyer achieve fair trade certification, and Banskota continues to view him as a mentor. This summer, the duo presented at the New England Regional Fair Trade Campaign’s annual conference.
“Watching Nishchal grow a business is humbling,” said Professor Kubik. “He could have found employment with a large U.S. firm, but he has held off on doing so in order to put his efforts and passion into his own business.”
Though he offers his perspective based on his own industry experience, Professor Kubik says he mostly tells Banskota to follow both his heart and gut, and he reminds Banskota to remain confident in his business.
Banskota hopes to get his tea into more than 30 stores and start a tea bar, but his main goal is to further the Nepal Tea brand. He attends national conferences, such as the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas, and hosts tea tastings. He has recently hired Sashreek Shrestha ’16 to help him with finance and operations.
“I have more experience now, and I won’t repeat mistakes I made starting out,” said Banskota. “I know I am doing good.”
In both senses of the word, he is.
Learn more at nepalteallc.com.