There is no cricket without tea…

    By Ignatius Joseph

    Photo by Studio Orion – Dahlmann

    Ceylon’s serene highlands offer splendid cups of tea to the world of tea drinkers.The subtropical nation of my birth is a bewitching land of gentle smiles with picturesque tea estates. Its endless tea plantations– reminiscent of Bordeaux for the wine connoiseur–and the scent of fragrant leaves will be never far from an exceptional cup of the finest tea!

    Curved roads wriggle up from the coast into the higher reaches of Sri Lanka’s hill Country, an emerald tapestry of forest, lush greenery, high altitude grasslands criss-crossed by one of the world’s most scenic stretches of railway.

    A leading supplier of finest tea to the world along with other major tea producers. Sri Lankans need no special occasion to sit down for a cup of tee. It is a visible part of their daily life. It might be in the bustling capital of Colombo or Kandy, where the Buddhist celebrate “Esala Perahera” also known as the Festival of the Tooth.

    A historical procession is held annually to pay homage to the relic of the tooth of Lord Buddha or the “surface paradise “ on the Weligama Beach. Even the famous cricket matches will serve plenty of tea in style. Every one enjoys the well-brewed tea with milk and sugar, a plentiful amount. My favorite spot for a pot of tee is on the veranda at the Hotel GalleFace, overlooking the Indian Ocean with its superb old world hospitality.

    The art of tea drinking can be observed and felt in every corner of the Island, but sadly the traditional way of brewing is losing foothold. It is no longer tea made for flavor, but to fill the “Tea Bag”. The ubiquitous saché has the advantage of portion control and versatility- while also allowing the manufacturer to sell even the waste from the tea selection process. It is convenient but far from elegant. Like everything merely convenient and economical it forfeits the culture of real time that makes tea a part of human communication.  Tea drinkers have no time to lose. They have no pots in which to brew. Even many islanders cannot afford the time for preparing a proper cup.

    Yet there are still many Ceylonese remain faithful to their tea culture, scalding the teapot to warm it before adding freshly boiled water to obtain the inimitable taste of their national beverage. Then the personal flavor enhancers are added, whether milk, a slice of lemon, or a piece of jaggery (palm sugar). I still remember the family tea traditions: the weekends were celebrated in style, with English cake and local hot savouries and cookies. Tea was brewing in the household from dawn to dusk. There was always a friend or a neighbor just popping by for a chat or to know the latest cricket results. The family bond and friendships were matured with tea. I played and kept score in cricket at college and club level. Meanwhile cucumber sandwiches and hot savoury cakes were served for the tea break between innings. Once in a while the umpires would remind us to return to the pitch to resume play. Tea was over. One could not return to the pitch without indulging those delicious snacks and tea. It was an affordable luxury for cricket players. 

    The first tea plantations on “teardrop-shaped Island” in the Indian Ocean were established in the early 18th century. The country’s sunshine and cool nights create the perfect growing conditions, producing a tender leaf. The industry has grown to serve the international market, using many new methods, still preserving old traditions, hand picked and hand packeted. The traditions have changed, still large factories operate on international scale, with all that competition. There are few better-known for artisanal brands who live to there true values of tea.

    Sri Lanka is also a prominent cricket playing nation. Here too tea plays a major role! The cricket clubs in the Island maintain the old nostalgia of the English tradition, “Afternoon Tea“ can still be found where a white jacketed, waiter, sometimes even in white gloves, will emerge carrying a tray bearing fine bone china, strolling through the well manicured lawns to the club house to perform the tea making ceremony with a glorious panache.

    In the good old days, the island had its “Kopi Kade”, a tea shop, where a “sarong clad” tea maker would have his prominent place on a high platform, overlooking the customers who enter the tea shop. He knew how to brew the right cup. He was well respected in the society because he could make a client happy or cry. Tea is the “ mantra”. It is also a common man’s beverage. A loyal tea drinking audience will be faithful to this master of ceremonies. 

    The early 18th-century ritual takes place in the pavilions of the most famous cricket clubs in the Island. There are many establishments that maintain the old British traditions, from the bishop’s residence to the bridge clubs, they all have their own way of serving.

    A cup of tea will be the remedy for any situation arising on the Island. This has been the case since the English brought the plant to the island. In Ceylon the relevance of tea to the game of cricket extends further than that of a twenty-minute break that separates luncheon and the end of a day’s play. Tea and cricket in Sri Lanka has a long and colourful history which includes a protracted period of colonisation (1517 to 1948) by the Portuguese, Dutch, and the British. Today, the effects of such a legacy are still prevalent, much of which has been woven into the fabric of Sri Lankan society. Indeed, it is impossible to envision a modern-day Sri Lanka without its tea fields and cricket fields.Tea to the Western world is but one small item in a shopping trolley packed with groceries. In Sri Lanka, it is the trolley itself.

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