Sri Lankan innovation enriches Ceylon Tea | Sunday Observer

Sri Lankan innovation enriches Ceylon Tea

For decades, the tea grown in the salubrious hills of our motherland have positioned us in the forefront of the global tea industry. Year 2017 marks a magnificent milestone as we celebrate 150 years of Ceylon Tea, a journey laden with trials and triumphs, a journey which has enriched and blessed our economy. Today, Ceylon Tea is a desired brand across the continents. It is estimated that 3 million people in the country are sustained by the tea industry.

One of the veterans who has dedicated 50 years of his career to Ceylon Tea is Bryan Baptist. This former ruggerite who played for the Sri Lankan team has displayed his prudent business acumen to support the local tea industry. Bryan has also worked in Bangladesh, Turkey, India and Kenya, which enabled him to gain insight into different operations. Bryan said, “We have come a long way since James Taylor; the father of Ceylon Tea, and now it is time to innovate and fully automate the production process to meet global demands.” Joining us was former Air Force rugby star, retired Group Captain, Nalin de Silva. He explained, “Drying the tea leaves is a very important process, one that determines the quality of the end product.” Since ancient times tea was initially dried by natural sunlight, then the factories moved to a process called “withering”- where moisture is taken out of the fresh tea leaves. In controlled withering, the humidity, temperature and air flow is constantly monitored. In Japan, a process of “kill green” is used to halt the oxidative browning of tea.

This is where the record breaking innovation of young Senarath Samanthilake of Thermex Lanka steals the spotlight. The amiable graduate of Moratuwa University had assembled a dryer in 2003, which he began using to dehydrate fruits and vegetables. Slowly, monitoring the progress, he was keen to try his hand at drying tea leaves, yet, he had no background in tea processing. It is then that he was introduced to tea taster, Bryan Baptist. The idea of enhancing the drying process had been on Bryan’s mind before he went on his assignment to Turkey. In the conventional drying process, almost 70% of the leaves’ character is lost and basically, in the planters’ terminology, “goes through the roof”. Realizing that this was an opportunity to revolutionize this vital segment of tea production and enrich virgin quality tea, Bryan began to experiment with various kinds of tea from our agro-climatic districts of Galle, Dholosbage, Thalawakelle-Nanu Oya and Haputale. Using the new dryer they were able to (at a temperature below 55 degrees Celsius) protect the antioxidant properties, flavour and aroma. The traditional tea drying temperature is at 110-120 degrees Celsius. The results yielded desired levels of success. The dryer was able to retain the valuable sensitive aroma and moisture of the tea sustaining its organoleptic qualities. Inspired by these positive advances Bryan explained, “We hope to blend this black tea with tea produced by conventional driers, which will enhance the overall quality”.

The results of the dryer were sent to Taiwan in 2016 and the SGS report showed a very good result, surprising the staff of that lab. Thus, the innovative dryer made by the dynamic Senarath has set the benchmark for future tea production.

This virgin quality Black tea is not only a soothing beverage; it has many benefits for the well-being of the human body. Drinking black tea reduces plaque formation, and also kills bacteria that causes cavity and tooth decay. Those who drink 3 cups of black tea are at a lower risk of getting a stroke or heart attack. Some new research also shows that polyphenol- an antioxidant in black tea may help prevent some forms of cancer. Regular tea drinkers have stronger bones, and a lower probability of developing arthritis. In addition, black tea also helps to boost our immune system.

The tannin in this tea contributes to a therapeutic effect on gastric illness. During a busy day at work where one encounters various corporate challenges, a cup of black tea has a relaxing effect on the body and mind. Finally, drinking 2 cups of black tea can help reduce the risk of type-2 diabetes. Bryan is jubilant that his dream of introducing new technology has become a reality, thanks to the versatile team with him, including, Nalaka Gampalage who is the Market Research Manager at Thermex Lanka. The genuine passion of Senarath, Nalaka, Bryan and Nalin is to enhance this innovation. As a nation, when we look forward to the next 100 years of tea, we must appreciate this unique product and strive to elevate its beverage value to the position enjoyed by wine in European countries. When comparing the process of the vineyards, the process of tea planting is far more superior, intense and requires more endurance. Thus, the cup of Ceylon tea must gain a higher echelon in the world’s culinary domain and supplement our nation’s traditional cuisine and even extend to the global food arena.