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Inspiring Conversations with Madhu Sharoff of Kimbala

Today we’d like to introduce you to Madhu Sharoff.

Hi Madhu, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
Being a native of India, I grew up with chai as an integral part of daily life. When I moved to the United States in 2000, I realized finding a proper chai was impossible. Thousands of coffee shops to choose from and not a single proper chai was served at any shop I visited. Most coffee shops carried one of a handful of big brand concentrates that were over-sugared, loaded with cinnamon, and lacking in tea flavor. Chai has sadly been bastardized in the US for decades – it should be an experience that soothes the soul and celebrates the tea flavor and that experience just doesn’t exist here like it does in India. I always made a point to round up my chai supplies and bring them to friends’ homes during get togethers; still such enjoyable memories enjoying conversation over chai. So, the combination of being fed up there were no GREAT chai options, along with encouragement from friends to bottle my chai recipe, were the core reasons for creating Kimbala. I started the brainstorming process in 2018 and as of 2020, Kimbala is available nationwide, offering the first (and best!) ready-to-drink chai delivered to your home.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
What a question… is any startup ever a smooth road?!? I know I’m not alone in saying no! Finding our way to Austin was honestly one of the first hurdles faced – my wife and I knew we needed to be somewhere where she could find work without much issue but we could also find a community to be a part of and grow Kimbala in a cost-effective way. I’ve bootstrapped Kimbala and plan to do so for as long as possible – that being said, a whole lot of hustle to save on costs in every aspect of the business has been and continues to be crucial to the success of the company. This is quite honestly very stressful at times but I have a vision for Kimbala as a brand and company. I intend to see this through and keep hold of as much stake in my business as possible for as long as I can.

Another challenge is related to the tea and coffee category being crowded by brands whose offerings, I feel, are often lacking in the perfect combination of authenticity and convenience. Most of the brands I’ve seen follow a similar flavor profile, one that does not represent Indian chai in an authentic way. Because of this, creating the correct brand positioning to capture the consumer’s attention, plus help them understand why what we’re doing is different, is something I am constantly thinking about and working to improve. Kimbala goes against the grain in America as far as chai is concerned; our chai is a representation of what you might find at a tea stall in India but that concept isn’t familiar to many. As a result, the education around chai – what it is, how it should taste, what it should be called–not chai tea!–has posed some challenges but is something I continuously look to share information about. It has not been perfectly smooth but that was to be expected! Every bump, scrape or bruise has been healed, learned from and made me a stronger and more flexible entrepreneur.

As you know, we’re big fans of Kimbala. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
With Kimbala, I am giving consumers the taste of homemade chai without multiple steps, time, or mess involved on their end. Achieving convenience while also keeping our offerings authentic are core pillars of the products we offer. We want our customers to experience chai and use it as a moment of pause and reflection or a moment of happiness shared with a loved one. The depth of the chai experience in India is something that is so important, and Kimbala aims to bring that to the United States with a fresh, authentic chai.

I focus very heavily on creating a balance of flavors that provide the ultimate sensory experience and premium, fresh taste. All ingredients in all of our products are sourced from India, allowing us to really create an authentic experience.

Additionally, everything Kimbala offers is made-to-order; I chose to stay committed to this detail because I believe wholeheartedly in choosing healthy, better for you ingredients and why should a beverage you select be any different? There is such a large focus on quality ingredients, organic, non-GMO, etc. in the food industry in general, yet many beverage companies still go the route of mass-producing to achieve shelf-stability. Kimbala was created with the intention of providing a better-for-you beverage and therefore uses no shelf-stabilizers, preservatives, or artificial ingredients.

Many of the chai brands currently on the market were created by a founder who went to India and came back inspired. These founders have great stories and I am thrilled that others are helping to bring pieces of India’s culture to the United States. It’s exciting to see the mark chai is making in the United States and while its growth in recent years has been immense, it became a bit disheartening when I found that a proper chai recipe still hadn’t been created. Most seem to follow a similar recipe: 7-8 different spices including ginger, way too much sugar and a non-existent tea flavor. The coloring is a light pink that doesn’t resemble the type of chai you would find in India.

Kimbala’s Ready-to-Drink Chai Assamica and Kimbala’s Chai Concentrate are brewed with a simple combination of cardamom, nutmeg, clove, and cinnamon, plus a balanced amount of sweetness blended seamlessly with black tea you will actually taste when you enjoy the end product. Chai does afterall, mean tea — your chai should taste like tea. Chai should also have a beautiful tan color, which is only achieved by brewing the correct proportions of milk, tea, and spices for the proper amount of time. These two details, the tea flavor and color of our chai, are two of the largest differentiators between Kimbala and other brands.

I want our customers to feel like they are drinking homemade chai and the reality is, they are! I am beyond proud to produce and deliver a chai and coffee that customers can feel confident was made in small batches, by myself and a small team, only a couple of days prior to receiving it. This is such a huge deal and Kimbala is currently the only brand to offer a made-to-order, ready to drink chai that is cold-shipped and delivered directly to your front door. Kimbala Chai Concentrates offer the same experience as the ready-to-drink with the ability to mix in a milk or dairy alternative of your preference; I wanted to be sure our dairy-free customers could also experience the joy of Kimbala.

I’ll touch briefly on Kimbala Coffee and say that India is around the 6th largest coffee producer in the world but I feel pretty certain many did not know that. The soils and landscape are rich and diverse, creating coffee that is extremely enjoyable. Kimbala Coffee Neat is a straight black coffee and Kimbala Coffee a la Jaggery is our lightly sweetened coffee option, both of which are smooth, non-acidic, not bitter and provide the perfect amount of caffeine. I enjoy coffee and chai equally and am thrilled to offer this convenient coffee option for customers.

I would like your readers to know that if they are looking to get their hands on Kimbala’s chai immediately, order a chai latte at any Royal Blue Grocery in Austin or Two Hands on South Congress – all of these locations proudly serve Kimbala’s chai! Additionally, I would love your readers to know that they may have an incorrect perception of what chai is and I’m so excited to share Kimbala’s story and be a resource for anyone who might have questions or be interested in learning more. Kimbala is a small business and I have my hands directly in all of it – reaching out to us on any Social Media platform or via email gets you directly to me and I hope to have the opportunity to interact with you all!

What are your plans for the future?
New product development is always on my mind and I’ll focus soon on some nice caffeine-free options, which I’m excited to bring to the website within the year. I keep a large focus on learning from our current customers and gathering feedback in any way possible; a crucial part of growth in my opinion. I listened to much feedback on the website and am glad to share that we will be launching a new website experience within the next few months. Other than that, Kimbala has a home in PREP ATX, which we’re very excited about, so lots of exciting things to come – follow us on IG and keep an eye out!

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