La Gravitea is a remarkable tea café with hundreds of selections of fine teas inspired by the travels of founder Avinash Dugar but aside from specialty teas, what makes La Gravitea special is that the young staff are all hard-working graduates of the local school for the hearing-impaired. Aravinda Anantharaman visits this tea café with heart.
For the Love of Tea
By Aravinda Anantharaman
Jamshedpur in the north Indian state of Jharkand is an industrial town famous for its steel industry. It’s closest link to the tea regions would be Kolkata, nearly 300 kilometers away. But one man here has succeeded in putting the town on the tea map with his café, La Gravitea. He serves a dizzying range of teas from special Darjeelings and Japanese matcha to iced teas and flavored blends alongside a menu packed with popular café dishes. But what makes La Gravitea newsworthy is that its staff is entirely hearing-impaired youth.
Avinash Dugar who started and runs La Gravitea, talks about how it began. In 2015, he decided to step away from corporate life. He thought his calling lay in adventure sports but while travelling through southeast Asia he happened to visit a tea bar in Hong Kong. More used to India chai stops, this was a revelation in what a tea bar could be. Avinash returned to India, keen to start selling tea inspired by what he had seen. He set up a kiosk with 70 teas on offer, teas he had learnt to source from all over the world, brew and serve. He thought he would do for tea what the chain, Café Coffee Day has done to popularize coffee in India.
Until one day, among his customers, he saw a hearing impaired young woman. He struck with a conversation with her brother who mentioned that there were no jobs available for the hearing impaired. This struck a chord with Ashish and he decided to expand his kiosk into a full-fledged café, and employ hearing impaired youth.
The local school for the hearing impaired gave him names of their alumni who had not found employment. Avinash visited them and spoke to their families. Many were reluctant to send their daughters to work. But he went on to hire six girls, and trained them in running La Gravitea, from cooking dishes and brewing tea to operations and service. Six years have passed and the first set of girls have since moved on and he’s hired others, also hearing impaired. And tea? La Gravitea’s menu has since doubled and offers a range that includes several types of chai, tisanes, Darjeelings, and Assams to teas like Japanese matcha, sencha and Yerba mate. Along with tea, La Gravitea is is also fast becoming a museum for teaware.
On a Saturday afternoon, I get a WhatsApp tour of La Gravitea. I spot a teapot shaped clock, several teapots from across the world, a prized Victorian moustache tea cup procured from Kolkata, samovars, some vintage teaspoons and several collectibles. Avinash talks about a consignment that’s made its way slowly through Customs, one that holds a 4.5 foot tall teapot from China which will make him the owner of the largest teapot in the country. He confesses to a great love for teapots, adding that he has a teapot tattooed on his arm. La Gravitea is an unusual tea café, which showcases all the things its owner seems to love – teas from all over the world, vintage teapots, the French language, a desire to do good for the community.
What seems to tie it all together is that it’s all heart!
Carmel Bal Vihar
Sister Flavian, a former principal at Carmel Junior College in Jamshedpur, established the vocational program at Carmel Bal Vihar in June 2010. The school for the hearing impaired in Sonari, offers practical skills for its 130 students because “a Class X pass certificate is not enough these days as a lot of challenges lie ahead for differently abled students as they go out in the world,” sister Flavian told the Telegraph of India.
“I decided to provide vocational training for students after some parents highlighted the employment problems faced by students after they left school,” she said. Graduates from Jharkand and many other states who attend the school have since found work as beauticians, tailors and, thanks to Avinash Dugar, in foodservice.
Carmel Bal Vihar is affiliated with Carmel Junior College establish in 1997 and administered by the congregation of the Apostolic Carmel Sisters of the Catholic Church.
— Aravinda Anantharaman
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