Ceylon tea party began in Canberra and covered the world in 24 hours Report from Samson Abeyagunawardena

Harticle_imageigh Commissioner Skanda Kumar (in apron) bends attentiuely over a guest
Tea, anyone?

Canberra, Thursday 06 July

The world’s largest and longest tea party, held to celebrate 150 years of Ceylon tea, began in the chancery of the Sri Lanka High Commission in Canberra at 5.00 pm today and ended two hours later.

From Canberra, the revelling moved East with parties scheduled to begin at 17.00 hours GMT in each time zone. This global chain resulted in 24 hours of cumulative celebrations for Ceylon tea in many parts of the world and ending in the West coast of the Americas. This is the largest and longest tea party that has ever taken place.

The 50 guests at the Ceylon tea party in Canberra represented all sections of the Australian tea trade. There were tea importers, brokers, tea tasters, retailers, restaurateurs and public relations consultants. A tea smallholder and his wife flew in from the state of Victoria. He grows tea on 19 hectares of land, uses a mechanical device to pluck leaf for export to Japan, where it is manufactured as green tea. “These Ceylon teas are fine,” he said.

Another guest proudly claimed he had gone to Ceylon in 1967 to participate there in celebrartions of the Ceylon Tea Centenary. A tea retailer expressed strong interest in quality Ceylon teas as he firmly believed that consumers were prepared to pay a little more for teas with natural flavour.

The party began with a brief address of welcome by Sri Lanka High Commissioner S. Skandakumar, and the screening of a short documentary film on the Ceylon tea industry. Skandakumar noted that the Sri Lanka tea industry maintained high health standards in the manufacture of tea as well as high ethical standards in labour employment and employer-employee relations.

He spoke with authority as before coming to Australia as Sri Lanka’s top diplomat, he was chairman of George Steuart & Co, Sri Lanka’s oldest tea estate management company.

Guests then adjourned to the chancery’s spacious reception room to sit around tables laid out with elegant tea ware and delicious Sri Lankan savouries. The High Commissioner and all mission staff donned aprons bearing the Lion logo and stood at a long table brewing leaf teas from plantations in Uva, Dimbulla, Nuwara Eliya, Uda Pussellawa, Kandy, Sabaragamuwa and Ruhuna.

This was a party unlike any other held in the chancery. Guests went to the table with their cups to request a little tea at a time so they could sample the entire range of seven teas in two hours. The conversation – chiefly about the colour, aroma and flavour of each brew and the virtues of tea was conducted in soft tones compared to the high decibel rate at a cocktail party. Tea, a guest remarked, was invented for quiet contemplation and civilised living.

Tea, especially Ceylon tea, was Australia’s favourite non-alcoholic beverage for 200 years – until coffee overtook it two decades ago.

The Sri Lanka High Commission in Canberra has scored a great hit for Ceylon Tea. Will the Sri Lanka Tea Board follow this up to claw back lost ground in an important market?

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