Tea revives the world

January 29, 2015

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The Ceylon Tea Museum, just outside Kandy, revived us.

The Tuk Tuk driver said it was: “very mountain.” It was a long way up the mountain, with stunning views over Kandy and the knuckles mountain range beyond. The hillsides were symmetrically, systematically planted with tea. The pattern this creates from a distance is very pleasing on the eye. We’d had a difficult day the day before, when everything seems to cost too much and take too long so it was so lovely to breath in some mountain air and walk round the really interesting museum.

The museum itself is in an old tea factory which is 5 storeys high, it costs 650 rupees to get in and I think that is reasonably priced. On the ground floor there are original Victorian machinery that they used. I should explain that tea comes from the camellia sinensis plant, the plant is maintained and pruned so that it consistently produces a ‘flush’ which is a set of new leaves and buds. This flush is expertly picked, ground, fermented, dried, and then left to sit before packaging.

The Victorians achieved this with steam power, a 42 Horsepower engine to drive all the machines in the building, they needed around 30. It is fascinating to see the original machinery that they used and how the engineers of that day obviously looked at their surroundings (water mills) and magnified that power using technology.

Two of the main pioneers of tea in Sri Lanka will be familiar names to you back in the UK and elsewhere; James Taylor and Thomas Lipton, both of which still have their brands that live on from their hard work. James Taylor devoted his life to tea in Sri Lanka, he never married and he only took one holiday which was to Darjeeling to learn how they made their tea. He spent thirty plus years cultivating tea on the island after an opportunity came about due to a destructive fungus that crippled the coffee industry. He died of disentry at the age of 57 – the museum said he suffered another blow by dying.

All tea is made from this one part of the camellia plant, it is the process that changes the type of tea that is obtained at the end. Although certain qualities of plants and environments lend themselves to the production of certain teas.

They had a brilliant archive of Taylor’s equipment and there was a lovely pot of tea at the end.