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Young Mountain Tea (YMT) Founder and Kumaon Tea Co-Founder Raj Vable

Raj has deep passion and expertise in improving rural Indian areas through innovation and U.S. resources. The idea for YMT came while Raj was in the foothills of Kumaon, a forgotten tea region in the Himalayas on a Fulbright fellowship. After seeing firsthand the fallow land and meeting the skilled farmers (90 percent of whom are women) who were looking to revitalize their land and economy, Raj founded YMT in 2013 with a mission to support tea farmers, their families, and the soil. Raj started YMT with a promise: if farmers would grow tea, the world's most consumed beverage after water, Raj would start a company in the U.S. to sell it.

In 2014, YMT became the first American importer of Kumaon region teas. In 2022, YMT launched Kumaon Tea, a unique speciality tea partnership which they co-own with the Kumaon farmers. This groundbreaking model for tea production signifies a new chapter for the Indian tea industry, where factory ownership has shifted from private corporations into the hands of hundreds of rural, smallholder farmers, creating economic resiliency and independence. YMT will be the sole importer and reseller of Kumaon Tea in the U.S.

Raj’s work has been supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, USAID, Fulbright, Acumen, and more. He has spoken at the World Tea Expo, taught classes for the Global Tea Initiative, and received the “Best Sustainability Award” from the World Tea Expo Awards.

In his free time, Raj loves hiking in old growth forests, swimming in Lake Superior, warming up in the sauna, playing acoustic guitar (spiced up by the occasional rock/punk song), and cooking with vegetables straight from the farmers market.

Kumaon Tea Co-Founder Desmond Birkbeck

Desmond Birkbeck is a second-generation Kumaon tea farmer who has dedicated his entire life to helping Kumaon realize its potential to be a thriving tea region in India.

He grew up helping his father harvest tea in his family’s tea garden. While in grade school, he wrote letters to the Indian Tea Board, requesting that they recognize his family’s garden as an official tea estate, so they could sell their teas in India’s famous tea auctions. He left Kumaon for college, and following the completion of his master’s degree in biochemistry, he had a choice: go abroad to get a PhD or return home to be a farmer and help his home village prosper. He chose the latter, and over the last 25 years, he has become the unofficial father to Kumaon tea.
Raj and Desmond met in 2015, when Raj asked Desmond if he would be able to grow tea on Kumaon land. The two formed a partnership, and the first batch of Desmond’s Kumaon tea to ever be sent to the US landed at Young Mountain Tea’s (YMT) door. Since then, the two have traveled all over India, learning how smallholder farmers were organizing themselves and improving the quality of their teas.

In early 2022, Desmond launched Kumaon Tea, alongside Raj. Kumaon Tea aligns with his lifelong mission to create a successful tea industry in his hometown that follows regenerative farming practices benefiting local farmers.

His favorite place to relax is beside a creek inside his family’s tea garden, where the sounds of running water mix with songs of blackbirds.


  • Rajnish Jain and Rashmi Bharti: Co-founders of Avani, a non-profit which has provided empowerment training for farmers for more than 25 years.
  • Nigel Melican: Founder of Teacraft, which provides science-backed guidance on growing and processing tea around the world. Nigel has more than 40 years experience growing tea around the world, including on five continents.
  • Seth Petchers: Senior Program Director at Sustainable Food Lab, a nonprofit creating more sustainable local food systems.
  • Alicia Simmons: Sustainability Manager at Frontier Co-op, specializing in CSR programs.


This new venture would not be possible without initial financial support from project funders, including:

  • US Agency for International Development (USAID) Cooperative Development Program
  • Frontier Co-op
  • Young Mountain Tea
  • Acumen


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