From New York to Bumthang

A dream born in the USA attains the age of 8 in Bumthang

Between 2005 and 2010, Rinzin Wangchuk, a 56-year-old native of Chhokhor, Bumthang, had the opportunity to work at Juice Generation, located at 117 West, situated between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway in New York. He began as an entry-level employee but quickly ascended to the position of supervisor. Juice Generation, a renowned juice bar and one of New York’s most popular eateries, was frequented by celebrities such as Salma Hayek, Demi Moore, Brooke Shields, and even Yoko Ono, late John Lennon’s wife.

During this time, Rinzin pondered the idea of replicating the same if not similar venture in Bhutan. He saw the untapped potential in herbal tea. Coincidentally, Wangchuk Kuenga, another Bhutanese individual, had been working from 2002 to 2009 at the Chef’s Garden, located at 9009 Huron Avery Rd, OH 44839, United States. He was responsible for managing herb production, pest control, and marketing.

Fate brought Rinzin and Wangchuk together during an event in New York. Rinzin shared his vision with Wangchuk, and the seeds of the herbal tea project in Bumthang were sown when they reunited in Thimphu at the beginning of 2015. By that time, Wangchuk had also initiated The Chef’s Garden at Yusipang, Thimphu.

“We commenced our groundbreaking work in March 2016, financing it through loans secured by mortgaging my inherited private land,” Rinzin recalls. Each of the two partners contributed Nu. 1,000,000 as equity investment. Today, Bhutan Herbal Tea stands as a pioneer in the production of premium organic herbal teas in a pollution-free environment, set in the pristine Himalayan atmosphere at an altitude exceeding 9,000 feet (2,750 masl), with a primary focus on delivering high-quality herbal teas.

When asked about their target markets, Rinzin mentions that exports are currently in modest quantities, primarily to India and Taiwan. These exports encompass both raw materials and finished products. Rinzin further explains that their primary target market is Southeast Asia, particularly countries with a strong tea-drinking culture. At present, 75% of their production is sold domestically.

With the spirit of a bold and ambitious entrepreneur, Rinzin has plans to expand their production substantially. “Currently, everything is produced within our six-acre farmland. We are looking forward to a tenfold expansion by 2024 and intend to involve the community through a buyback scheme,” he remarks. This would help the community around earn, while also helping Bhutan Herbal Tea to increase production.

Regarding economic viability, Rinzin asserts that Bhutan Herbal Tea has maintained sustainability since its inception, even amidst the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. “We have remained sustainable, although our profits have not been substantial,” he adds. Currently, the venture employs ten regular staff members, with additional labor recruited from the community during peak seasons, such as harvest time, to meet specific requirements.

Like many entrepreneurs, the company faces its share of challenges, including budget constraints, labor shortages, maintaining product quality, ensuring consumer satisfaction, addressing demand and supply mismatches, and other hurdles.

Rinzin explains that the brand “Bhutan Believe” is divided into two sectoral brands, ‘Made in Bhutan’ and ‘Grown in Bhutan.’ Bhutan Herbal Tea falls under the ‘Grown in Bhutan’ category and has been awarded the ‘Grown in Bhutan’ mark by the Government. This mark represents the natural and organic Bhutanese produce, reflecting the pristine nature of the country.

Bhutan Herbal Tea also aims to encourage consumers to embrace Bhutanese products grown naturally in traditional ways by people who care about the consumers’ taste. Recently, Rinzin returned from a promotional roadshow in Japan and Singapore. He expresses gratitude to the Department of Trade and funding agencies, citing that it was a valuable experience, particularly for knowledge-based marketing.

Rinzin also emphasizes that “Bhutan Believe” is a national brand subdivided into “Grown in Bhutan” and “Made in Bhutan,” focusing on authenticity and genuine products. He urges agencies and officials to maintain the highest standards for these national brands, both in the certification process and in domestic and international exhibitions, to avoid diluting “Brand Bhutan.”

In terms of government support, Rinzin believes that government and related agencies, including embassies, can play a pivotal role in establishing market linkages to boost exports to neighboring countries. This, in turn, can lead to mass production, community involvement, and employment generation, helping to reduce the country’s trade deficit and generate foreign currency.

Bhutan Herbal Tea is currently in its eighth year of herbal tea production. Rinzin also believes that there are opportunities within Bhutan. “All that is required is hard work, patience, discipline and commitment. We should look at His Majesty as the source of inspiration. If a King can work so much, why can we not,” Rinzin says, while reiterating that Bhutanese youth and entrepreneurs can explore numerous opportunities in the country.

The objective of Bhutan Herbal Tea is straightforward – to promote healthy living, encapsulated in their tagline, “wellness in every sip.”

Ugyen Tenzin from Thimphu