The Localist

It’s tea time all the time!

teatime-Sri Lanka

“Pure Ceylon Tea” – now there’s a marketing line that I’m sure people throughout the world are familiar with. It often brings to mind a picture of someone elegantly dressed, sipping a cup of golden red tea poured out of some ornate porcelain teacup in the mountainous tea estates. Yes, we have the high teas and even “The Tea Factory Hotel”, if you’re after that kind of experience. However, for us locals, tea drinking is more often a less fancy yet inherent part of our daily routine.

Like the majority of Sri Lankans, I begin my day with a cup of bed-tea. If you are lucky, someone prepares it and wakes you up with it, and if not, you groggily sleepwalk and make that cup of milk tea to wake yourself up. Next, we have our breakfast milk tea, followed by our ten o’clock ‘plain-tea’ (no milk in this one!). We then have another cup of milk tea in the afternoon and another cup in the late evening. Now before you jump to any conclusions about me being some kind of tea junkie, let me reassure you that this is pretty much the average. I know quite a number of folks who need a cup of tea after all meals and one at night just to help them fall asleep! Then of course there are all the herbal teas: Ginger tea for colds, green tea for weight loss, mint tea to calm and soothe etc. You name an illness, we’ve got the tea cure!

So how do we like our tea? Simple answer: Super sweet! The modern method simply involves adding massive spoonfuls of refined sugar, but the traditional practice is to have tea with  ‘hakuru’ (or jaggery), which are dark brown chunks of concentrated palm, coconut or sugarcane sap. Jaggery gives a whole new taste to that cup of Sri Lankan tea. Children (and the inner child in any Sri Lankan adult) love to dip Marie biscuits into their tea, the local version of milk biscuits or Oreos. Then, there is my personal favourite: Yaara They. Yaara They (translated as Yard Tea) is tea that is poured from the height of a yard so that it forms a frothy bubbly layer on top. Often, instead of sugar or jaggery, this tea is made using sweetened condensed milk. Watching someone pour this tea from a height itself is an entertaining experience. If you are lucky, some skilled tea makers will show you tricks as they pour it from around their shoulder (hopefully without spilling all the hot tea!).

Speaking of hot, I am convinced that Sri Lankans have some secret method of boiling water over 100 degrees celsius. Tea served at roadside shops is extremely hot and takes ages to cool down. Yet, no matter how hot the weather is outside, we will continue to drink boiling hot tea. Nothing cools you down like the tranquility that washes over you as you take a sip of that sugary tannin delight!




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