Pu Erh: Tea. Friday Morning.

Friday morning the city of Jeddah looks deserted. I cross the road almost blindly, there is nothing but six lanes of emptiness where streams of bumper to bumper traffic congregated and congested at 1.00 in the morning. January. Friday. Morning. Three things that make walking irresistible in a place where walking is impossible, any other time. This morning is too beautiful to waste inside an air-conditioned automobile.

I meet up with my friend at Teayana, the tea-lounge and café. Coming from the Paradise Isle of Ceylon, I thought I knew my tea until I flipped through their elaborate menu. More than 125 types of distinctly different teas, from over 25 different countries and over a thousand tea gardens. Almost everything from Green or Herbal, to Black or White. Blended, unblended, flavoured and not.

If there was paradise for tea-connoisseurs, this was it.

To my horror, I discover only two varieties from Ceylon. In a bouquet of exotic teas that had even more exotic names, I spot “Nuwara Eliya” after much effort. Surely we should have had more than two varieties, I thought to myself, and spent next 15 minutes trying to prove myself in vain. It seems that the much sought-after teas from Ceylon have failed to move with the times – just like their name. Ceylon, and Ceylon Tea: soon to be nothing but distant memories.

With a long sigh, I settle for a Moroccan Mint tea. And a zatar with labneh on the side.

We chat about life at large. We talk about the impending elections, the future of Sri Lanka and our role in shaping-up the world. We talk about building libraries around the country and how to help our people in need.

We talk about marketing. Or rather the lack of it, when it comes to selling our paradise to the world, tea being one of them.

Later, much later, I decide to try some unique tea and decide to flavour a vintage variety: Pu Erh. (pron. = purée).

Vintage. Like wine.

Older, the better.

Pu Erh is the only tea that improves in flavour and value with age and it takes around 30 years to reach maturity. Until then, the teas are stored in breathable, usually unglazed, clay canisters – leaving them to oxidise and ferment slowly. Once matured, they are stored in sealed containers similar to any other tea. Apparently, some of these Pu Erh teas are coming from the days of the last Chinese Dynasty and a small, compact brick or a cake could easily fetch a few thousands dollars, if they are genuine. Finding such specimens are said to be very rare though.

Since I haven’t made my million$ and billion$ yet, I try the commercial variety that is sold at the lounge: Pu Erh – 10 to 20 years old. Full-bodied, heavy tea that tastes like a fine whiskey. Only lighter, and smoother. My taste buds remind me of the flavour of roasted tobacco and the warm sunshine in Paradise back home.

Sipping that and looking out of the window at McDonalds across the street, I marvel at the power of branding. Then I momentarily wonder where Ceylon Tea would be, if we don’t revive the industry, rejuvenate the market and reclaim our former glory.


  1. Does this mean another cake to apologise for the apology cake? "OJ" and "ERONG"?! LOL, I'm sorry, I'm sure its not funny.....

  2. It's also surprised me that in spite of our tea heritage no real ceremony has developed around Sri Lankan tea culture - is because we are relatively young to tea in comparison to China and Japan? If the tea list there is as extensive as it seems try LUNG CHING or Dragon Well as its sometimes referred to

  3. Sigma Delta, actually they have trained staff who would ask a few basic questions about an individual’s taste and recommend a suitable tea. And from there, they would take you on a journey of discovery, taking you through the teas from various parts of the world – one by one. Hats off to that concept – and the marketing manager who came up with this is a Sri Lankan..!
    And yes, they have a discount card too. ;)

    PS: I would, most certainly, try the Lung Ching next time.

  4. wow, this is the first time I've heard about Pu-Erh... :)

    I wonder what will become of Ceylon tea too... *sigh* :(

  5. Eh, I didn't know they had one of these there. Coool. How progressive of them :D

    And Labneh. Mmmmm. You lucky man :(

  6. Chavie, perhaps Ceylon tea could be the next Pu Erh: rare.

    Sabby: Yeah, wonder how the new Lebanese Restaurant in Casa is like...

  7. Upon my recent visit to the paradise I got an export quality parcel of tea from an estate owner. It's just awesome!

    Perhaps it's not the quality of the tea but our ability to market it is to be blamed here?

    Oh and again, nicely written. Your posts are far and apart, but the wait is well worth it. Cheers man!

  8. I m Truly impressed.. just half a day in the lounge and you have already traveled few hundred miles in a fascinating road to discover those long lost Teas with over 5000 year old rich history & its surrounding cultures.
    Very well written ...I can not agree more with your last paragraph on branding.. we need to work fast .. to get it back to the right direction.