A St. Cloud State University alumnus has given the community he grew up in better access to housing, education and infrastructure, all through his family’s tea farm.
Originally from Nepal, Pratik Rijal first came to the United States in 2014. He spent a few months in New York City before attending a college in Iowa for about six months. Iowa wasn’t a good fit for Rijal, so when his cousin told him about St. Cloud State and the area’s Nepali community, Rijal said he jumped at the chance to transfer.
“The three years out in St. Cloud was the best time of my life.
“St. Cloud was a different world for me, but at the same time … the experience in St. Cloud proved to be very defining for my personal and professional goals,” he said. “The Nepali community is huge out in St. Cloud, so I never felt homesick at all.”
Rijal finished his degree in finance from St. Cloud State in 2018. He then moved to New York and worked on Wall Street for about three years before he felt it was time for a change.
“I was making a decent amount of money and there was great career growth, but at the same time, what I was missing was I didn’t see the real impact I was making,” Rijal said. “And that always bothered me.”
His uncle started Nepal Tea Collective in 2016 with Rijal becoming somewhat involved while he was still in school, but in 2021 Rijal took on the role of co-founder and COO of Nepal Tea. The business of tea has been in Rijal’s family longer than that, though. His grandfather started a tea garden on the family’s property around the Himalayas in Nepal in the 1980s, and Rijal’s uncle then continued the business and brought it to the United States. Four of his aunts are involved with the family tea garden in eastern Nepal as well.
“He (my grandfather) started the tea garden to elevate the community out of poverty as well as to empower the farmers out there,” Rijal said. “Looking back at it now, 40 years later, what we have seen is this single plant has impacted the community so much that now there is proper transportation, electricity, and there’s infrastructure out in the community. So with the same mission, the same vision, we started Nepal Tea out in the U.S. in 2016.”
He said the supply chain in the tea industry is “so outdated and broken,” with producers making less than $2 a day while middlemen make millions. Because of this, Nepal Tea takes a farmers-first approach. The company sources teas directly from farmers and then markets the teas out in the U.S. Consumers buy their teas directly from the gardens, and by scanning the QR code on the back of the packaged tea can track exactly where the tea came from, see the faces of the farmers who helped harvest it and the date it was plucked, and learn about the entire process of the tea reaching their cup.
“Being transparent and customers being able to trace this is very important in this world right now,” Rijal said.
Building on his grandfather’s legacy, Rijal makes sure that Nepal Tea continues to give back to the community that makes its products possible.
“We are not just a typical tea retailer or wholesaler. We believe tea is a vehicle for social change,” he said. “All of our full-time farmers receive free housing accommodations. All of our full-time farmers’ kids receive scholarship opportunities.”
As of May 2022, Rijal said 2,400 children have passed through the company’s scholarship umbrella.
He credits his time at St. Cloud State with teaching him time management and how to work hard, and with helping him meet diverse individuals from different backgrounds — all important skills that helped get him into Wall Street. Rijal said the Career Center at St. Cloud State helped him through mock interviews, building his resume and helped him land a job with U.S. Bank while he was still in school. His professors and other mentors in St. Cloud — including former Vice President of University Advancement Matt Andrew and his wife, Nancy — supported him and helped him along the way as well.
“The experience was just amazing in St. Cloud,” he said.
Rijal said it is important for those still in school or those with ideas for their own career goals to have the right mindset moving forward.
“Just pursue it. It’s going to be difficult,” he said. “Persistence is key, because you’re not going to see results the first day. It’s going to take a while before you even start seeing results.”
More information about Nepal Tea can be found at nepalteacollective.com, and St. Cloud State alumni may use the discount code “SCSU 2022” for a limited time.