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December 15, 2016
Celebrating Ceylon Tea
In December, the Friends of Sri Lanka Association ("FoSLA") hosted a special evening on Ceylon Tea in Kensington, London. The event was a precursor to the celebrations, which begin next year to mark the 150th anniversary of the Sri Lankan tea industry. Special guests included Mr Nimal Karunatilake (Trade Representative attached to the High Commission in London), who provided tourist brochures and small packets of loose-leaf tea for guests to take home. Sri Lanka is currently the world's fourth largest tea producer but in 1995 was at the top of the pack. The evening included talks about life on plantations from colonial times to the modern day, a tea-tasting session followed by wine and canapés.

Miss Chamali Fernando who co-ordinates the evening events for the association said: "Tea is perhaps the island's most famous export and with the 150th anniversary fast-approaching, it seems right that we should do all we can to celebrate this milestone and promote Ceylon tea."

Dr David Ebbels spoke about the early days of tea planting and the time when he was an assistant superintendant on tea estates in the Haputale District. In the 1950s and early 60's, life for European planters was changing and new methods were being introduced. David's book "Round The Tea Totum, When Sri Lanka Was Ceylon" is about life as a British planter during colonial times. David's father, George Ebbels, was a planter in Ceylon for 41 years. On leaving school, David entered the tea industry and worked in the agency of George Steuart & Co. Ltd (one of the oldest mercantile entities in the world).

Sarah Callaghan inspired the audience with tales of her arduous task in reinvigorating a dilapidated tea estate armed with little but her knowledge and passion for Sri Lanka and for gardening. Sarah talked about the challenges facing a modern-day planter in Sri Lanka and how her small tea estate is focussed on corporate social responsibility and has helped transform the lives of those she employs. Three years ago Sarah bought an abandoned tea estate in Uva Province near Bandarawela as a retirement project. A publisher turned tea planter, Sarah turned to the 1950s for inspiration and guidance on bringing the estate back to life. Now the 15-acre estate employs 9 workers and is set to expand by a further 10 acres next year.

Afterwards Mike Bunston, the Tea Ambassador to the Sri Lankan Tea Board took the audience through his tea tasting tips. Mike joined the leading Ceylon Tea brokers (Wilson Smithett) as a trainee in 1959 and climbed the 'corporate tea trail' to become Chairman of the group some 43 years later. As a fulltime tea broker, he attended extramural lectures on the tea trade at the City of London College and was subsequently posted all over the world to run marketing operations for tea plantations including Rwanda, which he first visited in 1970. He returned to Rwanda after the genocide of 1994 and helped them reconstruct their damaged tea industry. In the same year, Mike received an OBE for his services to the international tea industry. Mike has chaired the UK Tea Association and International Tea Committee. Mike is also a committee member of the newly formed London Tea History Association.

Former British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka, Ms Linda Duffield CMG, is Vice Chair of the association and proposed the vote of thanks, commenting on "how wonderful it was to hear from individuals with such a rich knowledge and expertise of the Sri Lankan tea industry."

Tea Tasting Session
Members and their guests had a chance to sample teas from the 7 districts: Nuwara Eliya, Uva, Uda Pussellawa, Dimbula, Kandy, Sabaragamuwa & Ruhuna. The taste, flavour and aroma of teas are influenced by the conditions particular to those regions. Sri Lanka produces teas that are low grown (at an elevation between sea level and 600m), mid grown (from 600m - 1200m) and high grown (above 1,200m). A straw poll at the end of the tasting session revealed that, among this audience, tea from Uva Province was the most popular.

Friends of Sri Lanka Association
David Ebbels
Linda Duffield Former British High Commissioner to SL proposing the Vote of Thanks
Mike Bunston OBE
Tea and Tourism
Tea Tasting
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