Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How about a nice cuppa?

Taking advantage of proximity to Goa, a friend and I hopped over after the bike ride to Sri Lanka, where we were hosted by Sumedha and Kumari Kulatunga. That's Sumedha presiding over a tea crop. He took over operation of the family's tea estate in Morawaka this past June, after a varied career in hotel management, including stints in Boston (hence the familiar hat!) He has about 85 acres of tea plants (Camellia sinensis) under cultivation. Here's a picture of the bud and upper two leaves that are used for tea, along with a photo of a couple of the women doing the plucking.

Sumedha gave us a tour of his tea factory. The tea is first laid out and "withered" in long, aerated bins. Then it is put through rolling machines, and the fermentation process changes the chemical composition and the color. Then there are lots of steps sorting the tea by size, shape, and color, before it is packaged and sent to market, where the price has been determined by auction.

This is a very labor-intensive process, although increasing degrees of automation are being introduced. For example, a Japanese machine uses optical scanning to separate leaves by color and send them to different bins. This would have been done manually in the past. Even leaf plucking may become more automated in the future. The Kulatunga's have great concern for the workers on their estate. They know that this largely uneducated group of people need to receive help to adapt to what is likely to be a greatly changing economic environment. I'll describe some of their efforts in a following post.

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