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.