Has Ceylon Tea being taken for a long ride in a tea bag?

Wednesday, 5 March 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Kamal Dabere During the past 25 – 30 years, there has been a major shift in the up-take of Ceylon Tea by various importing countries, which has had both positive and negative aspects as far as the tea industry is concerned. It is natural to expect changes in consumer habits over such a long period of time for any product and had been consumer items both electrical and electronic, beverages and food products, automobiles etc and most producers of primary products have change their production techniques and procedures to match up to such changes in consumer habits; very often to the advantage of the produces. However this does not seem to be the case, in the case of Ceylon Tea which at one time reigned supreme in quality, whose newly adopted manufacturing techniques have only wanted to dilute the quality image associated with Ceylon Tea in other words. With the quality product that Ceylon Tea was, it is now no more than a commodity which is produced by several other newer producers, the reason for this as complex and as they varied. Quality What contributes to quality Tea? This can be summarised as follows: Good agricultural practices. Good manufacturing practises. Good agricultural practices Producing quality tea begins with a good standard of leaf which could only be obtained through adoption of numerous agricultural practises so as to manage and sustain the tea bush in an optimum vegetation growth phase over its life cycle. By not adopting good agricultural practices, the resultant leaf produced is not succulent and soft enough to obtain a uniform wither which is a prerequisite for a good quality tea. Gnarled, stunted single leaf and banjis do not contribute to even withers to produce good quality tea. Good manufacturing practices Most up-country estates currently adopted extensive use of rotorvanes, which are associated with high temperature seemingly to manufacture teas of high density to fit the so called “Tea Bags” irrespective of quality. The only positive factor in the excessive use of rotorvane is perhaps ‘artificially’ a  higher outturn of made tea on account of some portion of stalks and fibre which gets macerated into so called ‘Black Tea’ due to the severity of the treatment in the rotorvanes. Much of the drawbacks in the condition of the raw material, green leaf, is ‘compensated’ in the use of successive rotorvances which ‘minces’ the withered leaf to produce Black (brown) Tea. Sri Lanka – two distinct quality seasons Sri Lanka is blessed with two distinct quality seasons viz December-March on the western slopes, and July-September on the eastern slopes of the hill country. Do we at present produce the quality teas of the past? Even during this quality seasons, the same rotorvanes are used extensively to produce tea, which shows a major flow in our manufacturing process. During these seasons, the factories should concentrate on producing optimum quality (incidentally quality in large particled PEK, BOP, BOPF and FBOP grades are distinctly desirable than in the high density grades). What is advocated is for factories in the high elevations to optimise quality during the respective quality seasons using orthodox manufacturing (with lesser use of rotovanes) and during off seasons to go for selective rotorvane manufacture to produce high density teas for the tea bag market. By following the above procedure, Sri Lanka will be able to win back markets lost to her due to poor quality teas and at the same time maintain a steady supply of teas suitable for tea bags, which is undoubtedly the growing global trend. But, remember, Sri Lanka still has niche markets for our top quality high grown, only if we know how to retain it in the teas we produce!