This fascinating book illuminates the all too often overlooked tea region of Ceylon, present-day Sri Lanka. The authors draw on the letters of James Taylor, pioneer and founding father of the Ceylon tea industry, to explore the life of a Scottish migrant who, through experimentation and determination, forged a new industry out of the ruins of the coffee blight. This uniquely complete collection of correspondence reveals this pivotal time in tea history through the eyes, thoughts, and actions of a key player. Some of the standards (two leaves and a bud) and machines that Taylor developed are still in use worldwide today.
We learn about the decline of the former plantation crops over several years and the fight to find a viable replacement: tea. James Taylor’s letters home to family, to local friends, and newspaper articles of the time are explored and expounded upon by the authors to offer a historical account by someone for whom the creation of tea was not just a vocation but an avocation too. Uniquely the story is told “as is.” That is to say, it is told in and of its time with explanation and exploration of the who, how, and why things were as they were, centered around the direct views, thoughts, and experiences of James Taylor. Unlike other works that look at this period, this book seeks not to offer judgment or rear-view mirror thinking but merely to show us what was happening at the time and why. First-hand accounts serve to explain and illuminate the period and the people as they were, as they lived, as they thought and spoke. This is the story and experiences of one man who lived through and shaped the birth of an industry. Not because he set out to change the world or get rich but because he was there because he worked with and in response to the situations, the place, and the time in which he found himself.
More broadly, this book also explores the legacy of Scottish education and the thought that the Scottish diaspora played such a significant role in the colonial world, particularly in Ceylon. It also looks at the legacy and, indeed, rediscovery of the legacy of James Taylor and his place in both the history of Sri Lanka and the Ceylon tea industry.
Although interesting, thought-provoking, and generally engaging to read, there are times when the reading can be a bit dry. Perhaps a case of two different writing styles. But push through those dry bits, and you’ll be riveted by the fascinating history within. TeaBookClub members agree that this is an essential book on your tea bookshelf that explores important tea history.
I’m really glad I read as much as I did, it seems like it’s very important history in the history of tea. – Audrey, USA
It being a first-hand account is what really made it interesting – Michaela, Austria.
I found it refreshing that the authors didn’t give Lipton much airspace. This was a book about James and what he did, achieved, and his life. I really appreciated that within the context of Ceylon at that time. – Taraya, Canada
It had very interesting and very boring parts but overall very good to read. Some parts were easier to read than others, maybe because there were two different writers. – Mariella, Netherlands
Fascinating that some of his machine designs are still being used today – Mariella, Netherlands
Based in the UK, The Tea Book Club is an international group of tea lovers and readers who meet up virtually every month to discuss tea books. If you’d like to join us for the next read, visit teabookclub.org or @joinTeaBookClub on Instagram.
Tea & Empire
Goodreads: This book brings to life for the first time the remarkable story of James Taylor, ‘father of the Ceylon tea enterprise’ in the nineteenth century. Publicly celebrated in Sri Lanka for his efforts in transforming the country’s economy and shaping the world’s drinking habits, Taylor died in disgrace and remains unknown to the present day in his native Scotland. Using a unique archive of Taylor’s letters written over a 40-year period, Angela McCarthy and Tom Devine provide an unusually detailed reconstruction of a British planter’s life in Asia at the high noon of empire.
Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis since gaining independence. Following the pandemic, many industries on the island ceased to exist due to political and financial difficulties. However, the island’s tea industry continues to battle on. Tea Biz correspondent and PMD Tea MD Dananjaya Silva discusses with Dr. Roshan Rajadurai, the Managing Director of Hayleys’ plantationshow Hayleys’ plantations have adapted and continue to produce tea, given the economic hardships.
Caption: Dr. Roshan Rajadurai, the Managing Director of Hayleys Plantations, left, discusses with Tea Biz correspondent and PMD Tea MD Dananjaya Silva how organizational discipline and adaptations enabled tea production to continue during the pandemic and recent economic hardships.
Listen to the Interview
How Sri Lanka’s Tea Industry is Coping with Continual Crisis
Production is down and export volume declined compared to last year but auction prices are at a high mark and Ceylon tea remains in demand. I traveled to Sri Lanka to assess the condition of a resilient tea industry following an unsettling spring marred by high unemployment in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic. For several months tens of thousands protested the inflation-driven cost of food and shortages of basics, including fuel, cooking gas, and electrical power. The upheaval led to the resignations of both the prime minister in May and the nation’s president, who fled the country in July.
Dananjaya Silva – How did the COVID pandemic restrictions show Sri Lanka’s plantation sector to be resilient and adaptive?
RoshanRajadurai – The plantation sector has a legacy of 150 years of very well-organized, centralized management structure, so when this pandemic situation suddenly came up the government imposed a three-day curfew which we had to abide by. But on the fourth day onwards, we quickly got on board, and made things as normal as normal could be.
The moment we caught wind of this pandemic situation, we put in place a series of measures at our 60 tea and rubber plantations. First, of course, we made our people aware of what this is all about.
There was an influx of people from Colombo and outstations, flowing back to the estates. So, we made sure their names were recorded, and if they showed signs of infection, we had isolation quarters. We isolated them for 14 days, and kept the medical and other authorities informed when they returned to the community. The organized sector has one million people living in a village-style setups in close confines. The measure we took were effective. Up to about the end of last year, we didn’t have a single casualty arising out of COVID. That is because we identified and limited exposure to the people who were coming from outside.
In addition, we did fumigating and provided simple medicines. And most importantly, we ensured that people didn’t have to congregate and that they didn’t have to go to bazaars and townships.
We organized distribution with the large food suppliers, like the government warehouse system, and brought in food in lorries. And we had stocks for two or three months. We delivered food packets practically to their doorstep. What is important is that we ensure that the workers did not spread this COVID.
There was also a group of people who had no other means of earning more income. Although last year was not a good year financially, we ensured that their wages were paid. And as a means of helping the people in this situation, we opened our industry to those who arrived from Colombo and elsewhere, and gave them work in areas that we could not manage with our regular workforce. So, their family unit had more opportunities to earn more when sons and daughters returned.
We already had in place a revenue share model, so we expanded it. There were a lot of people who didn’t want to be registered workers but they still got into the earning pool for their family and were able to enhance their family income.
So we had a very, very tough and a very well disciplined control system and to the credit of workers, I must say they cooperated fully.
They listen to the management; they follow the advice of health departments. So that’s an example of success and how after long years of practice the plantation sector was able to manage a crisis like this.
Dananjaya Silva – How did adaptations forced by the pandemic help Hayleys prepare for the political turmoil of 2022?
Roshan – After COVID came the financial crisis. There was no work to go back to in the construction industry as it had crashed, and also the eateries and small hotels. So, all the people came back to the estates and we made available opportunities for employment. One example is paying workers to remove weeds. We said we will pay you by the kilo and that was a very good intervention as people who don’t want to return to sort of plucking or harvesting work, they go to the field, remove the weeds and we pay them. This was essential because of the limitations on fertilizer. We convert the weeds to compost. Soil augers were given to each division and placement of holes tracked. Once the compost is made, we filled the holes and incorporated the bulk material and the compost into the soil so that it enhances the soil fertility.
Dananjaya – What you’re saying is that this 150-year-old industry, that has been the backbone of the Sri Lanka economy, continues to be that because workers who are from plantation backgrounds who’ve worked in hotels, construction, they once again come back to live on the estate.
Roshan – Actually, Dananjaya employment is only part of the solution that we provided, because there was an influx of workers. And it’s actually stretched our services. But we made sure that we accommodated them, that we looked after them in terms of food supply, because there was no food because the COVID curfew and restrictions. So our managers went out and bought curfew passes, they really did a great job on the ground. I mean, they volunteered – they could have waited and said, look, we don’t want to expose ourselves. But every company, every manager, every planter, took it upon himself to look after his community on the discharge of food, medicine or the wherewithal. Everything was provided and absolutely no breakdown. And ours is the only industry right now maintaining the industry as it was before a lot of challenges, a lot of stress, a lot of issues, but we still maintained the industry as it was.
Dananjaya Silva – Fertilizer was banned last year then the government subsequently reversed the policy. How is this affected Hayleys estates?
Roshan – Well, on the whole, banning of fertilizer was a shock and surprise to all of us due to the ill effect and the consequences of this hasty, unscientific and illogical strategy. We made significant protests, voicing opposition in media and TV talk shows and whatever but to no avail.
We are a large organization and we stock sufficient fertilizer for one or two applications ahead. Last year I did not plan for the banning, but I thought that we learned some lessons on logistical problems, with fewer ships coming, curfews on crews and the slowed movement of goods. So we gave instructions to our managers to store fertilizer for six months, anticipating a breakdown of logistics. Then, in the meantime, they banned the fertilizer, and therefore we had some stocks. Uncertain supply and high prices completely changed the way we apply fertilizer now because we know that for a year or two, we might not get cost effective fertilizer.
In the past we used to broadcast fertilizer but we quickly reverted to a system called placement where we dig a hole and put in a measured 24 grams of fertilizer per bush. In this way, you’re reducing the wastage from volatilization, and leaching while improving efficiency by a significant level. We are also stretching the fertilizer as one application done in this manner means we can sit out two or three future applications. Fortunately for Haley’s group, although we didn’t plan for the ban, we had planned for something else. It also gave us sufficient fertilizer and for food crops raised by workers, so they could infuse some so that they are not going to go without food.
Dananjaya – When you talk about ensuring food for workers, that’s a stark contrast to the situation for someone living in an urban area, isn’t it? People there don’t have the opportunity to stock food, and are relying on retail supply. There is no guarantee for them, as they might find themselves standing in a queue for days, and not be guaranteed any food at the end of it.
Roshan – The plantations you know, care for not only the direct workers, but all dependent family members. So if someone has got COVID, we say, don’t worry, we have given the family food over the year in some cases, we can recover it. So by that action, people have confidence in the management that we have looked after them in a very, very critical time. And when they were sick, we made sure that the government medical authorities or personal care management were involved. We offer a holistic total system of care for our people.
In towns, as you said, we all have to stand in queues, and those who do are not sure there’s stocks, but in our case, we bagged provisions and dry rations and brought it to their home so that they don’t have to come and interact or mix with people and spread COVID. So that way, I think we got a huge boost in terms of human resources. When we gave very tough guidelines and instructions, they followed the advice like keeping a distance while working whereas traditionally they were together in a row. We said you have to separate immediately and without any protest they showed wholehearted obedience and support for us.
Dananjaya Silva – Fuel shortages have crippled and decimated many sectors of the country what provisions and adaptations Hayleys have made to ensure the smooth running of operations.
Roshan – After the crisis came on, definitely we have taken radical measures to reduce the running of unnecessary trips and vehicles. We have mapped out all the roads in each division and compared distances and identified the shortest routes to make transport more efficient.
We also introduced some innovations like ziplines. These were built before the crisis, but came in handy. We can save about 90 kilometers a day on trips to the factory because the tea otherwise has to be driven along a circuitous route. It’s eco-friendly and does not use fossil fuel. We have instituted several eco-friendly practices. Now our managers and assistant managers are provided with good Push bicycles, and they have resorted to more walking,
Dananjaya – One area that you touched on was moving tea from estates down to Colombo, there has been some disruption. How are you working through that situation because because the logistics are provided from from outside of the estate.
Roshan – Normally, we manufactured and made arrangements to send our produce to Colombo, and to ship it out. What we do is provide measured fuel to take the tea down to Colombo and even for firewood suppliers because we need firewood to run our dryers. So we assist them in some form. Because of the fuel shortage we are trying to harvest wood that is already grown on the estate for this purpose and adding branches cut to reduce some excessive shade.
All those initiatives and energy efficient measures add up. We are relying more on hydropower and we are trying to put almost 60 to 70% of our roofs in solar. So all those things can happen after the crisis. These are interventions that happened before COVID and the financial crisis, which have a beneficial use for us right at this moment.
Dananjaya Silva is the managing director of London-based PMD Tea and a third-generation tea man whose family business, P.M. David Silva & Sons, dates to 1945 during the Plantation Raj in Ceylon’s Maskeliya Valley.
Sri Lanka is in turmoil politically and financially; the country of 22 million is struggling as widespread demonstrations continue. Unrest is tied to food inflation exceeding 50%, with critical shortages of cooking gas, fuel, and reliable electricity. The country has defaulted on its foreign debt, and its currency devalues with a credit rating that discourages outside investment. Government bankers are at an impasse in negotiating a bailout from the International Monetary Fund that will depend on difficult reforms, including higher taxes and governance changes. Tea producers are confronting all the above challenges, yet the Ceylon tea brand remains resilient. Last year, the industry generated $1.32 billion in US foreign currency, exporting 300 million tons of tea, of which 270 million was high-value orthodox tea.
Export earnings increased 6.72% during the 2021 calendar year compared to 2020. Every subcategory reported growth, with exports of tea bags growing 84%, tea packets up 10%, sales of bulk tea up 2.5%, instant tea sales of 19.5%, and green tea up 22.8% through December, according to the Export Development Board.
Industry veteran Niraj De Mel was named Chairman of the Sri Lankan Tea Board in June 2022, his second appointment to a position that he previously held in 2004. In this discussion with correspondent Dananjaya Silva, Managing Director at PMD Tea, de Mel explains the challenges and solutions facing Sri Lanka’s tea industry.
During his 45 years in tea, Niraj de Mel has worked as a taster, broker, exporter, and educator. He is past chairman of the Tea Exporter’s Association and the Colombo Brokers Association and served as vice chairman of the Colombo Tea Traders Association. He is the founder and director of The Mel’s Tea Academy in Colombo.
Dananjaya Silva – Tea professionals globally say they are happy to see a safe and steady hand on the tiller as you return to steer the Sri Lanka Tea Board. Given the current political situation, how secure is your position?
Niraj de Mel – Well, to start, let me tell you a bit about the developments before my appointment [on June 20]. Come the middle of May, the industry got together, and because they thought it was time, we told the authorities what we knew best and what was best for the industry.
So, arising from that, they also decided on the people best suited best-suited for the positions at the TRI [Tea Research Institute] and the Sri Lanka Tea Board. I was asked to step back into my previous role as chair for obvious reasons. The immediate past chairman went along with this delegation and met the minister [Minister of Plantation Industries, the Hon. (Dr.) Ramesh Pathirana] to discuss these things and told him that after the debacle as a result of a wrong decision on fertilizer, it’s time that we get the feedback from the experts. Plus, the industry will tell them exactly how things should be run. We have been doing this for the last 155 years, and it’s arising from that conversation that I’m in this seat today.
Dananjaya – Now that a new president has been named, will changes in the cabinet likely means a new appointee to the Minister of Plantation Industries post?
Niraj – I sincerely hope that he [Dr. Pathirana] will be reappointed to the position. Of course, there is no issue whatsoever because he and I will get on.
He’s a minister who sizes up things quite well. He’s a learned man being a medical doctor himself. If there is going to be a change in ministers, the Associations will take up with whoever who’s appointed to the position of Minister plantations that you know that I should remain. Be that as it may, I’m here to do the job.
First and foremost, we need to steady the ship.
Dananjaya –The ban on importing chemical inputs, including most fertilizers, was halted in October, but the effects of the setback linger.
Niraj – Mistakes were made, but circumstances that led to that decision have changed. The big development is a result of the Russian-Ukrainian war, a conflict between some of the world’s largest fertilizer suppliers. Fertilizer has since become scarce and prices went sky high, impacting Sri Lanka at a time when our currency itself also depreciated, compounding matters for the average tea farmer. It’s now virtually impossible for him to afford this kind of price.
To address that, the Sri Lanka Tea Board considered an initiative that has been knocking on the door since January. I see from the minutes a request for funds from the promotion levy to be used to facilitate a loan scheme so that farmers get fertilizer to start feeding these bushes, which have been starved for nutrients.
The board has since delivered fertilizer to nearly 100 factories to offer to smallholders and regional plantation companies. They are working to ensure that the estates will have sufficient fertilizer within about one and a half months.
Editors Note: The Hindu reports that India, on July 17, delivered 44,000 metric tons of urea under a credit line extended to Sri Lanka, as part of New Delhi’s ongoing efforts to support the island nation’s farmers and help bolster bilateral cooperation for food security, the Indian High Commission in Colombo said.
Dananjaya – It seems we’ve returned to the days of old during the colonial period when the Planter’s Association essentially told the Governor of Sri Lanka what was good for the country. Because what was good for the planters’ community was good for the country.
Niraj – Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s time actually that all the private sector did that, not only tea. The private sector has long been the engine of growth in this country, be that planting, manufacturing, exports or brokering. All that is well handled by the private sector and the government sector, such as the Tea Research Institute of Sri Lanka, does the research.
Dananjaya – The crisis not only impacts the rural tea sector. Service providers report difficulties obtaining financing, fuel, and reliable electrical power in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s hub for blending, packaging, and shipping. Will you describe how the tea board is addressing these concerns?
Niraj – I think there needs to be some clarification on this. The private sector basically handles it, but we are trying as far as possible to assist. I have tried to instill into the minds of the officials that we have to be an enabling outfit.
Going back to your question No. 2, there’s one item that was missed: the fuel factor. Actually, that has taken precedence over fertilizer now because the collection of leaves as well as bringing the manufactured tea out is essential to run your factories. Exporter functions, particularly the tea bagging sector, where the machines have to be run continuously, all require an uninterrupted power supply. Power cuts that have been prevailing in this country for the last 4-5 months are an encumbrance to the people, as a result of that, now compounded by the fact that there’s fuel scarcity, particularly diesel. So given the availability of fuel we are trying our best to contact all concerned with the right message to ensure that the producers get their fuel quota.
They cannot have it the way they used to have, because the country itself is, you know, is importing fuel ship by ship. The private sector importers, in particular, have stepped in, which is very magnanimous on their part. To fast-track this process, the government has said, well, if you can produce the foreign exchange, you can certainly get the fuel across. So, the private sector exporters banded together to give off whatever they could.
Dananjaya –As new problems have arisen over the course of this year, from power cuts to rationing fuel, the tea industry has drawn on a battle-hardened core of tea professionals who are able to react quickly and make provisions to see that the industry continues to operate.
Niraj – That’s right. That’s right, reaffirming that Sri Lanka tea has for 155 years been one of the most resilient industries in this country.
There will be little disruptions here and there, but the fact of the matter is we are managing, though it’s challenging. There is great unity among the stakeholders, particularly now with these current issues which they had to face together. We started at the beginning of the pandemic back in 2020. Everybody came together in two and a half weeks to quickly convert to an electronic platform to conduct the auctions, which was great. That carries on to this day. The Colombo traders are very, very confident that there will not be a return to the old outcry system. I started life as a broker and enjoyed the outcry system, but the fact-of-the-matter is we have to move with the times. The platform has enabled us to quicken the process, giving buyers, producers, and brokers time to spend on other things.
Cricket is an apt metaphor… Cricket is the only game that stops for Tea, the country might be 74/8, with a bumping pitch and blinding light, but the Tea sector continues to bat on at the crease.
Dananjaya Silva is the managing director of London-based PMD Tea and a fourth-generation tea man whose family business, P.M. David Silva & Sons, dates to 1945 during the Plantation Raj in Ceylon’s Dimbula Valley.
The United Kingdom Tea Academy is recognized as a world authority for online tea education. Staffed by professional tutors the academy offers courses from beginner to advanced. I sit down with Co-founder and director of studies Jane Pettigrew, who is a leading author and speaker on tea,along with Suranga Perera, the chief instructor of the Ceylon tea program, who counts over 20 years of experience in tea and is the former CEO of Ceylon Tea Brokers PLC.
Dananjaya Silva: Will you explain the essential role that is performed by UKTA in the growth and expansion of specialty tea?
I think that what we’re doing is actually raising awareness amongst consumers of the possibilities of drinking better tea and also helping food service employees to deliver better tea and to know more about the sort of tea we’re hoping they will serve.
There’s an awful lot of people amongst the general public, but also working in restaurants and hotels and tea lounges, coffee bars, etc., who really don’t ever stop to think about tea as a suitable offering for what they’re doing.
And so I’m afraid tea has always been treated as a bit of a loss leader, a second cousin — twice removed.
It’s never really featured in a lot of people’s minds. Our aim is to raise people’s awareness of the fact that there is so much more than paper teabags.
Dananjaya:Specialty tea is growing in popularity and there are more tea houses being established. Who are the courses that you offer aimed at and how do you deliver these courses?
Jane: So the people we aim at are specifically food and beverage. But of course, we are also found online by people who just love tea. About 15 years ago, shortly after the new Millennium up to about 2005, things really started to change. China opened up and people began drinking more Chinese tea again.
And a lot of completely non-tea people came into the tea business. There are many people who have been working in tea for a very long time, and I think a lot of these new people came into tea from just a completely different direction, either with outside experience and a business degree or because they traveled and they’d come across Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese teas that they couldn’t get here.
Some of those people opened tea businesses so that they would make those teas available.
And as more people learned about teas, cafes, restaurants and hotel lounges started serving more teas, and they all began to realize that they actually didn’t know very much about tea.
So we try to be at least one step ahead, particularly with food service operations, to give them an insight into the different categories of tea which they’ve never heard about. We help them understand fine teas and help them brew the tea properly. We also help them answer clients’ questions about caffeine and why tea is good for us, and to talk about the different flavors.
I mean there is just so much to know, which obviously raises the profile of a really good restaurant or tea lounge or even a coffee bar.
In the past, we were classroom-based here in London which meant that people flew in to find us and sit with us in the classroom. Because of COVID, we had to reinvent ourselves into a completely online business.
There have been a lot of advantages of actually doing that. We of course now can reach people absolutely anywhere in the world.
We try to gear our courses in two different time zones because if we’re teaching in Asia, they’re eight hours ahead, and if we’re teaching in West Coast America, we’re eight hours behind. So we try and find times that suit the different markets, which seems to be working really well. Instead of teaching for a whole day, now we teach in three-hour chunks or less, and the three hours absolutely fly by. Quite a lot of our courses include brewing together, discussing flavor and aroma profiles together, learning to talk about tea, and sound exciting.
There’s just so much to this that people gradually get very drawn in, and once they start with us, they tend to go through the different levels.
Dananjaya: You mentioned that it’s a global course. How does someone sitting in Australia or New Zealand receive those samples? Could you take us through the process?
Well, yes, of course. Our foundation level, what we call Tea Champion is taught in two segments, practical and sensory. We don’t have so many teas going out for that course.
For our Tea Sommelier class, which is the second level up we send out something like 170 teas. We’re not drinking all of those. We add things in for little quizzes on dry leaf recognition and for blind tastings.
We try to do as much as we used to do in the classroom, but of course, we have to plan ahead and allow a good month to get teas out — and not just to far off places but actually into Europe, which has since Brexit been a bit of a problem. So then we send them the recording of a class or event and they can listen along on their own and brew the teas on their own time.
We have a brilliant team now who are constantly packing teas for the next course. The students keep in touch with us to let us know whether or not they’ve received the teas. So with good planning and “military precision,” we can actually do this.
Dananjaya:So by the sounds of it, although COVID had a massive negative impact around the world for your organization, it’s actually allowed you to reinvent yourself and have a much wider scope, hasn’t it?
Jane: It’s been amazing Dananjaya because when we were teaching in class, particularly with the more advanced class, it was very, very intensive. We went through lots of material in four days, maybe with a day off in the middle, but we had to do it like that because people were flying in specially and they couldn’t keep coming back for the class.
They did well, but I think it was an awful lot of material for them to take in and with less time for revision, quizzes, and games.
So now that we’re teaching online, we can actually spread the classes out over four weeks, six weeks, and weekends, whatever we want to do. There is a longer gap between each module and the students are now brewing the teas themselves, which they never did in the classroom, and that means that they actually build up a much closer personal relationship with the tea.
And they have enough tea to brew more than once, so they’re getting a lot more, I think, that we delivered in the classroom. I’ve been running quite a lot of exams individually online, talking for about three hours. The results that we’ve been getting since we began teaching online have been absolutely phenomenal. You know, some people are absolutely word perfect. I think it is because they’ve had more time to build up not just their understanding, but their passion for tea. It’s not hard to develop a passion for tea. Everybody gets caught up in the whole thing.
Dananjaya:Yes, there’s so much to explore. What you’re saying is that participants needed to let the information brew for a while.
Jane: Yes, it’s assimilating it and making sure you’ve really understood it, and if they haven’t, having the time to go back and ask more questions. What we aim to do is give people the tools they need to go off on their own tea journey.
This is particularly true of the lower-level class. It is absolutely essential because tea is difficult to learn on your own. There’s a lot of stuff out there now, more than there used to be, but it’s still quite confusing if you don’t get the basics absolutely clear. We can then introduce the higher-level classes with some of the most amazing teas from all around the world. People just can’t believe the many options.
Ceylon Tea Masterclass and Diploma
Dananjaya:The UK Tea Academy is relaunching the Ceylon Tea Diploma course in July can you explain what the new course entails?
Suranga Perera: As Jane said, the main objective is to bridge that gap between the consumer and the producer. We have created a very, very exciting master class for Ceylon Tea. We have got some very exciting teas and gone into great depth. It’s roughly 10 hours long
The first session will be one hour. We will be tasting one or two teas just to break the ice and get people moving, and we’ll be talking about the history, of Ceylon teas. Then a current overview of production and discussions about certifications and Ceylon Lion logo in particular. There is a segment on ozone-friendly teas a discussion about the employment that Ceylon tea provides and an explanation of the auction system.
The second session is three hours long and covers what are known as the “high-grown” tea gardens on the island. There are some teas that we are tasting for the first time. For example, we are featuring a Mattekelle Golden Curl from a Japanese clone that is extremely flavorful, and quite different. Few have tested and tried it out. In this masterclass, we will be tasting roughly 80 teas.
The third session is also three hours long. it will focus on low-grown teas. We will cover teas from Sabaragamuwa, Galle, Deniyaya, Matugama, and other tea producing subdistricts. Having been a broker for 21 years I worked with these factories very, very closely and personally tasted these teas and picked the best at the time. Because teas change all the time due to weather and various reasons, we need to pick the right teas for the current season. We want to make it as current as possible and as precious as possible so it’s a dynamic masterclass. There are eight teas in this session to be tasted at home by participants.
The fourth and last session is about specialties, amazing teas that are not readily available. We see that a lot of factories are now getting into manufacturing specialties from which we have picked up the best available. Several of these factories are so, so, exciting, so authentic, so organic.
Some of the sessions are live at the factory so that the audience can see the production line and talk with factory owners and managers for greater understanding.
Bridging the gap to the best of our ability is what we are trying to do with this masterclass.
London-based Dananjaya Silva is the managing director of PMD Tea and a fourth-generation tea man whose family business, P.M. David Silva & Sons date to 1945 during the Plantation Raj in Ceylon’s Dimbula Valley. The company was founded on Brunswick Estate in the fertile Maskeliya Valley as a small independent Tea shop for tea plantation workers to gather, relax and enjoy a quality cup of tea.
Outstanding Education for Tea Professionals and Enthusiasts
The UK Tea Academy was established in 2015 to raise the standards of tea service in hospitality. One of the UKTA founders and director of studies, Jane Pettigrew, is a passionate advocate of high-quality tea, prepared correctly to draw the best flavor from the leaf. Jane is among the best-known and most highly respected professionals in the tea world. She has worked as a writer and educator for more than 35 years and is tirelessly committed to sharing her knowledge of tea with anyone who has an appreciation for this fabulous leaf. She teaches all over the world, has written 17 books on tea, and was awarded a BEM (British Empire Medal) for services to the tea industry.
A certificate from the UKTA is recognized in the hospitality industry as representing a high level of achievement and means the holder has attained a deep understanding and serious appreciation of quality tea. On completion of the introductory Level 1: Tea Champion, most of our students are inclined to develop an even greater knowledge of this fascinating world and enroll in Level 2: Tea Sommelier. Some go even further, to the ultimate challenge of Level 3: Tea Diploma.
UKTA Tutors Tea experts living in the United Kingdom teaching live webinars
Virtually all the world’s tea is grown between the latitudes 20 degrees north and 20 degrees south of the equator. Rising temperatures in this narrow band threaten tea yields and force growers to consider planting “upslope” at higher elevations where cooler temperatures prevail. Unfortunately, subtropical tea cultivars perish in a hard frost, expected above 7,500 feet. The Zhornyna Experimental Tea Plantation in western Ukraine, is located near 50 degrees north latitude. Planter Maksym Malygin is successfully growing tea under forest cover that has survived heavy snow during prolonged winters at temperatures 26 below zero Celsius.
Caption: Maksym Malygin at his home near Kyiv
Cold-resistant Cultivars are Key to Expanding Tea Lands
By Dan Bolton
The Zhornyna Experimental Tea Plantation is in western Ukraine near Mukachevo, a city of 85,000 located near the borders that Ukraine shares with Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland.Known as the Transcarpathia, this hilly region south of the Carpathian Mountains in ancient times was a part of Kyivan Rus. It was ruled by the Hungarian Empire for 1100 years until World War I and was part of Czechoslovakia until 1945 when it was ceded to Ukraine. The plantation is situated on high ground known as Chervona Hova or the “Red” Mount.
Dan Bolton: Thank you Maxim for joining our podcast. Your first recordings were interrupted by air raid sirens following intense missile attacks near Kyiv where you make your home. What has been the impact of the invasion on Ukraine’s only tea garden?
Maksym Malygin: We planned to carry out classical formative pruning of tea bushes in three seasons, from 2021 to 2023. After the first two years of pruning, we planned to test the winter hardiness of the skeletal branches of the bushes and not cover for the winter. This was planned to be done on 300 bushes that grow on the cleared part of the plantation. Pruning last year showed excellent results, the vegetation of the bushes increased from 15 cm after pruning to 70-80 cm at the end of the season. This April, we planned to cut at a height of 20-25 cm.
We will not do this and lose at least one year. Also, we will not be able to organize the collection of leaves to produce more tea.
Dan: It is good to know that you and your family remain safe. I speak for a global tea community that wishes your work will continue without war.
What is the future of Zhornyna as it produces only experimental tea in small batches?
Maksym: We have organized through ways for the development of the Zhornyna project. The first one is gaining experience directly on 300 bushes of the plantation. It’s not possible to make industrial production there, but it’s possible to consistently produce some tea for large tea tastings. The second is the vegetative reproduction of the unique winter-resistant tea. The third is a cooperation with colleagues in Europe on the transfer of tea and growing technologies in harsh climates. The most ambitious project at the idea stage is creation of a new two-hectare tea plantation in Ukraine, but right now it’s completely frozen on hold.
Dan: Listeners in Europe and northern regions that are experimenting with plantings will be interested in your experiments with temperature resistant cultivars. Will you describe the experiment in greater detail?
Maksym: Analyzing cold-weather characteristics and cultivars is an interesting question. And it’s not that easy to answer.
The history of unique Ukrainian tea plantation began in 1949 when non-varietal Georgian and Krasnodar seeds were sown, as well as seeds of the varieties Georgian No. 2, Kangra and a Japanese-Indian hybrid. This is described in the scientific literature.
We made a map of the entire plantation area with the help of the GPS. The total area is 1.4 hectares (about 3.5 acres). Most of the original farm has been destroyed. The surviving tea plants are located in five places. Each has different morphological features. Unfortunately, we still have not been able to find specialists in the post-Soviet years who could establish a tea variety according to the morphological characteristics of plants.
In this case, we need to use DNA analysis, but for comparison, we need to have data from old Soviet cultivars. My personal opinion is that the 300 bushes in the restored area descend from the Georgian No. 2 variety.
During the past 70 years, tea plants on the plantation have experienced snowy winters when the minimum temperature was minus 26 degrees [see map depicting Hardiness Zones, above]. Last winter, the minimum temperature was minus 15 degrees with virtually no snow.
Until 1999 “Zhornyna” was the most northern tea plantation in Europe. After the Tschanara Tea Garden in Germany emerging (the owners are my friends and colleagues Wolfgang Bucher and Haeng ok Kim) “Zhornyna” lost that status, but remains the most frost-resistant culture of tea worldwide (surviving winters with temperatures down to -26 C).
Given the age and adaptation to the local climate, this tea is likely a Ukrainian frost-resistant subpopulation of Georgian tea. It is my opinion.
In 1949 a team from the All-Union research Institute of Tea and Subtropical Agriculture in Georgia, after surveying much of Transcarpathia south of Kyiv, decided that conditions in western Ukraine on Chervona (Red) Hora Mount near the town of Mukachevo were ideal for planting cold-resistant tea.
Dr. I. I. Chkhaidze supervised development of the experimental tea garden which was one of six in the region. The initiatives were part of a greater project of the National Academy of Sciences of the USSR that in 1950 funded attempts to acclimatize tea on territories including Moldova, Transcarpathia, Crimea, Primorsky Krai, and in the far west the islands of South Sakhalin and Kunashir.
At Zhornyna non-varietal Georgian and Krasnodar seeds were sown, as well as seeds of the Georgian No. 2 variety; along with a Kangra cultivar from India and a Japanese-Indian hybrid.
Photos of the plantation taken during the early 50s were lost. “All we can show is one photo from the archive in Russia and three photos from a book written by Dr. Chkhaidze, who led the team of scientists,” writes Zhornyna tea garden owner Maksym Malygin.
The main goal of the project was “…full satisfaction of Soviet people’s needs for domestic tea.” In Georgia the Soviet Union implemented a similar project during the period 1930-1940 that ultimately supplied 30% of tea consumed in the USSR.
Tea was first planted along the Black Sea coastline in 1885 near Batumi. In 1915 there were 170 Georgian tea plantations covering an area of 1,000 ha. By 1932 the state had established 19 state-run tea plantations and nine factories. The area under tea increased to 25,500 ha. By 1993 Georgia growers farming 56,000 ha annually produced 75 million kg of tea at 70 state run factories.
Scientists considered the Transcarpathia to be the second most favorable region next to Georgia for producing tea, said Malygin. Fifty hectares on the collective were developed and 1.5 metric tons of high quality “Chervona Hora” tea was harvested in 1952
The project was canceled in 1953.
After canceling financial support for research, the plantation was abandoned. Lots of tea bushes were dug and cut out, only their roots remained. Thanks to the efforts of plantation workers tea bushes still grow, but there is insufficient capacity to develop the plantation, Malygin explains.
Among the experimental areas established in the Transcarpathian region only Red Mount’s persisted. Fifty years after the original 50 acres (20 hectares) were planted, only two hectares thrived. In 2000 there were several hundred tea plants still growing, blossoming and fructifying, he said. The bushes stood 1.5 meters high, said Malygin.
Tea bushes over generations grew resistant to constant freezes and give new branches in the spring. Skeletal branches do not have time to grow on their own, he explains.
Before 1999 Zhornyna was the most northern tea plantation in Europe. Plantations established in Germany and Great Britain are now the farthest north but Zhornyna is the site of the most frost-resistant tea cultivars worldwide, he said.
“In December 2013, my wife and I visited the plantation for the first time and fell in love with this place. So was started the Zhornyna tea plantation conservation project that we call “Tea Grows in Ukraine.”
The first step was to develop technology for the production of terroir and demonstrate that the leaves could produce quality tea. Experimental developments of semi- and full-fermented teas, were done from 2015 to 2021. The results demonstrated the great potential of the Transcarpathian teas, according to experts’ opinions.
The second stage came in 2019, when part of the plantation was cleared. Our attention was then focused on the 300 small bushes. Shelters were built and the tea plants survived the cold winters.