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Anytime is Tea Time


When I was a child and travelled around the island with my parents, I would see a sign board dotted along the roads with the slogan: Anytime is Tea time put up by the Ceylon Tourist Board. Invariably every journey would include a stop for tea at a wayside tea shop. That is a tradition that remains with us still and whenever we travel between cities and towns, a tea break has become essential. It is a chance, to stretch your legs, have a picnic, admire the scenery, take a break from driving along treacherous Sri Lankan roads, and an opportunity to chat with your fellow travellers and share your travel tips.

It has been documented that tea came from China, officially in 1824 in the form of a plant to be part of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya’s collection. Subsequently, tea plants from Assam and Calcutta in India were brought into the Gardens in 1839, but it was not until James Taylor introduced commercial tea planting on 19 acres of land in Kandy in 1867 that history was made, by establishing Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known then) as one of the premier tea producing countries of the world.

But there is nothing not to say, that perhaps there may have been occasion for an ancient Lankan to share a cup of tea, with a Chinese traveller, for after all the Chinese traveller and scholar Fa -Sien visited the land from as early as 401 AD and there have been a steady stream of Chinese visitors to this country, some welcome and some not.

Today, tea is embedded in our culture and no day is complete for many of us, without our mandatory cups of tea throughout the day- morning, afternoon, and after dinner. There are numerous ways of drinking tea in Sri Lanka, and each has its own name to denote how exactly the consumer wants to drink it: Plain tea is tea with sugar, Ginger tea is plain tea with sugar and with pieces of ginger smashed up, Kahata, is plain tea and has no sugar or milk, Kiri Kahata is strong tea with milk and no sugar, Tea is strongly brewed tea served with condensed milk and sugar, Nestea is tea with Nestomalt instead of milk or sugar, and finally Nespray tea, is tea with powdered milk.

I personally like my tea lightly brewed flavoured with a slice of lemon or on days when I am feeling exhausted and need a bit of comfort food, then it is strong milk tea with lashings of condensed milk.