Ebrahim Fallahi

Ceylon tea: A journey to the land of green magic

August 28, 2017

When earlier this month I got an invitation to attend the 150th anniversary of Ceylon tea industry in Sri Lanka, I didn’t know much about the country.

Despite the fact that “Ceylon” has always been a very popular brand of tea among Iranians and the idea of Ceylon tea was very familiar to me, I was really surprised by how little I knew about “Ceylon” itself. 
During my weeklong journey I learned so much about the country and its tea industry. I think I was really blessed to get such an invitation to the land of green magic. 
What comes below is a brief account of my short but definitely fruitful visit.

Colombo Tea Auction
For the first two days of my visit to Colombo along with other invited journalists I visited some of Sri Lanka Tea Board’s facilities in Colombo including the Board’s shop and laboratories in which tea goes through different kinds of tests and analysis. 
The third day of my journey (August 8), coincided with one of Colombo’s weekly tea auctions.
The Colombo Tea Auction is considered the largest tea auction in the world. Auctions are held every Tuesday and Wednesday, except for the national holidays like New Year and at Christmas. Around 6.5 million kilograms are traded on a weekly basis.
The first recorded tea auction in Colombo goes back to 1883, since then this Auction has become the main channel through which tea journeys from producer to consumer.
Sri Lanka tea industry is made up of three main sectors, namely buyers, sellers and brokers. As the main players of the tea auction, brokers act as an intermediate between the sellers and buyers.
Before the auction all the tea producers are obliged to present samples of their products for assessment and approval. In this stage the quality of the samples is controlled and the presented samples are evaluated and categorized for bidding.
Colombo International Tea Convention
The next day we were guests to the Colombo International Tea Convention’s opening ceremony as the biggest social event of Sri Lanka’s tea industry.
Organized by Sri Lanka Tea Board at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH) the convention was attended by hundreds of the industry’s scholars, experts, entrepreneurs and prominent figures from all around the world as a realization of the fact that Sri Lanka tea industry has achieved a very significant position among the world’s tea producing countries.
During the opening ceremony the attendees were addressed by the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe and also Navin Dissanayake, minister of plantation industries.
Delivering his speech, the minister of plantation talked about the transformation of Sri Lankan tea industry over the last five decades.
He also mentioned the importance of re-emerging markets like Iran and China and urged the industry to unite in order to regain the market share they have lost over the past few years.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on the other hand skipped the past all together and went to the future asking the crowd to imagine Sri Lankan tea industry in 2050. “With another two billion people added to world population how Sri Lanka will address their need?” he said.
Wickremesinghe further emphasized the issue of climate change as one of the main challenges of Sri Lanka tea industry in the future.
The tea convention went on for three days during which so many technical and theoretical issues were addressed by numerous scholars and experts who attended the event.

Tea production processes
There are several active tea factories all around Sri Lanka. In the past each estate owner would build its own factory to process the tea plucked in the state plantations to minimize the costs and time between plucking and processing. So nowadays most of the tea factories are located in the middle of vast tea plantations and still process their own state-specific teas.
For one of our next destinations during the trip to the island, we visited Pedro Tea factory which is located on top of a hill and it was established in 1885 during the British era. 
In the factory we were given a thorough tour to learn how tea is processed to become what we use in our households. After being plucked from the nearby plantations, within a two hour period, the tea is taken to the muster sheds for weighting and appearance monitoring after which it will be delivered to the factory. 
The factory was a three-storied building in which the tea leaves were taken to the upper floors to be spread in troughs, in a process called withering during which the excess moisture is removed from the leaf. After withering, the tea leaves go through various other processes including, rolling, heating and fermentation as well as grading and drying, during fermentation the enzymes in the leaves react with the oxygen in the air to release aroma and flavor.

Coconut Rubber and Tea Trade Fair
Sri Lanka’s Coconut, Rubber and Tea Trade Fair (CRT 2017) which was held from 11th to 13th August in Colombo was another big event which I had the chance to attend.  Sri Lankan Government has recently embarked on an ambitious economic growth program and in this regard the CRT was conducted for the promotion of the country’s coconut, rubber and tea industries. Organized by the Ministry of Plantation Industries (MPI), the trade fair was held at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall (BMICH).
There were also other programs held on the sidelines of the CRT fair, like Sri Lanka Tea Festival, workshops, tea testing programs and speeches which we couldn’t make them all.

Sri Lanka Tea Museum
Located in an old tea factory site among the teagardens of Kandy, Sri Lanka Tea Museum provides an informative insight into development of the tea industry which has made the country famous today.
As visitors walk through the place in different floors, they can appreciate the educational tea history the place has to add to their knowledge.
It was wonderful to see historic photos, machines and handicrafts used by tea planters and how the equipment used to process tea changed through time.
What came here was just a glance of my experiences in amazing Sri Lanka, although in this short travelogue I haven’t been able to cover all the aspects, but I will leave that for the readers to discover on their own visit to this magical country. However there is one other piece to come in which I will cover the tea trade between Iran and Sri Lanka.
To be continued….

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