Interview by Menule.
Three friends from Manipur gave up their city jobs to open their own Tea Shop – SAM’s Tea House in Ukhrul with a mission to do their bit for their local community. The three co-owners of SAM’s Tea House have been friends for decades – since their Higher Secondary days, and today, they run their venture like a family.
With their eclectice collection of premium teas – and tea blends, these friends hope to provide the humble luxury of enjoying a high quality cup of tea to tea lovers in Manipur. They’ve come a long way from being friends to running a business together!
The Trio behind “SAM’s Tea House”, Manipur
Menule: Hi! Please introduce yourselves to our readers.
We are a group of three friends who co-own and run SAM’s Tea House. SAM is an acronym from our initials : Sathingla Shokwungnao, Aggripa Jakoi and Machuk Kora Zimik. Giving up our city jobs, we returned home with the vision to contribute towards our community in our hometown in Ukhrul, Manipur. We wanted to do our bit in catalyzing community development through our very own venture, which is called ‘SAM’s Tea House.‘
Menule: How would your friends describe you?
We are a hard-working lot who also happen to be fun-loving. Some might even describe us as ambitious and as risk-takers.
Menule: Tell us more about ‘SAM’s Tea House.’
SAM’s Tea House offers everything to do with, but not limited to tea. It is located at the heart of Ukhrul town and features a collection of the finest tea and tea blends put together by tea connoisseurs and sommeliers. The shop pairs its exquisite tea service with elegantly designed tea-wares and customizable gift packs – all at an affordable rate. Besides the tea house, SAM also provides a comprehensive poultry service at Hungpung, Ukhrul District.
We strongly believe it is high time learned and skilled youths from the community join forces towards building the local network of skilled human resources and manpower – the lack of which, is a serious concern, and is detrimental to the growth of our society. We are determined to work on this mission through our humble initiative and hope to generate employment and livelihood opportunities for the local people in the near future.
SAM’s Tea House offers tea for all occasions and blends for every mood. From stress busters like the organic Blue Tea to super-healthy Matcha and Korean Ginseng, it offers plenty of options to experiment with floral blends like Chamomile, Floral Earl Grey and infusions like Peach Buckwheat, Passion fruit, Apricot and, of course, the classics like Assam, Darjeeling, Indian Oolong to name a few.
SAM’s Tea House, Ukhrul, Manipur
Menule: Tell us how the three of you decided to start with your tea offerings, as the first step towards achieving this vision of yours?
Our love for tea, in a way, was what got us started. We noticed that people returning from cities – people like us, tend to miss certain parts of their urban lifestyle in the cities. For instance, when we come home during holidays, the joy of enjoying our favorite tea blend/flavor wasn’t readily available. We could only get a limited variety of black tea and green tea. It wasn’t a life-threatening problem, sure, but tea lovers would understand and empathize, perhaps 🙂
Tasting a variety of tea blends used to be a humble luxury that was accessible to us readily in the cities – and something we dearly missed whenever we come back home. This longing coupled with our mission to empower and promote local resources and manpower pushed us towards this tea niche. Moreover, in our local community, enjoying a cup of tea with family and friends continues to be a cherished activity. All of these reasons combined, we felt it would be a great idea to bring the ‘fine-tea’ experience for tea lovers back at home.
Menule: Do you have a special tea blend that is unique to SAM’s Tea House?
We are no tea connoisseurs but we do love experimenting with blends every now and then. One first of such blends was what we call ‘SAM Winter Wine’- an infusion of hibiscus, starfish & cinnamon. This tea blend is pleasantly tangy, layered with some spice that translates into a warm flavor, with a hint of sweetness to it. People loved it, and this has been one of our top-selling tea blends.
‘SAM Winter Wine’- an infusion of hibiscus, starfish & cinnamon.
Menule: Where do you source your tea, and how do you create your tea blends?
Besides our in-house blends, we make available as many flavors from different sources as we can. Some of the blends are specially crafted with health in focus. For instance, there’s one specifically for a healthy heart and another for good sleep. This humble tea house offers more than 45 distinct flavors and blends besides ornamental and specialty tea collections. For an authentic tea experience, SAM’s tea is sourced from the very best – Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiri, Japan, Korea among others.
Tea Blends from SAM’s Tea House, Manipur
Menule: How is it like working with your friends?
Well, it is as it should be – fantastic! We’ve been friends since higher secondary school and by now we know each other very well. As it is, being aware of our strengths and weaknesses and geniality among us creates a much efficient and enjoyable working environment. In the process of nurturing SAM’s Tea House which is like our child, we’ve also become a family. The best thing about us is that we trust and care for each other and not just the business. Good times, bad times, we are all in.
Menule: What’s the most exciting part of your job?
Our customers, that’s for sure. Quite often, a new customer would walk in and be like “thank you for bringing this in Ukhrul, keep up the good work.” That’s one amazing aspect of our job – knowing that we are fulfilling our customers’ needs and wants and that they appreciate the same. Such words of appreciation never fail to boost our working spirit. And of course, with an assortment of ingredients at our disposal, it is always exciting to put our cups and kettle down to some experimental blending.
Menule: If you guys are having a bad day at work, how do you deal with it or make it better?
Our mantra would be, “a cup of tea to down the anxiety.“ That’s right, get our hands on our choicest tea and maybe sit down together if a group talk is called for.
SAM’s way of dealing with problems kinda looks like this : “Pick the problem(s), brew the solution, and sip on them while the stress takes off along with the steam from the beverage.” 🙂 Tea aside, we always try to talk it out among each other – whatever the issue that is causing the trouble, and it often works. That’s one of the benefits of working with friends.
Menule: What’s the best piece of advice you have received?
We are blessed enough to have been met with several pieces of advice so far in our entrepreneurial journey; they have in one way or another helped us run our little venture. One such piece of advice worth mentioning here was to never fail to give back to God for His ever-abundant blessings. Success may come and go; the world around us will change in time and we with it; but it would be wise to never forget our Christian roots.
Menule: Tell us about your latest project – and plans for 2021.
We have recently started our online service and we’re glad that it’s getting a good response. We are planning to start our very own tea farm pretty soon. We’re all much excited and hopefully looking forward to this project.
Menule : Last Q – What is SAM’s favorite leisure activity?
We love meeting up with friends. Running the tea house keeps us quite busy; still, we try to keep some time out for our near and dear ones. Another favorite is sitting down and discussing our future projects over a cup of lemon tea and a plate of shingju (spicy Manipuri dish prepared with vegetables, popularly taken as snacks) and pakora (fritters) at local snack corners.
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