Winter marked its arrival with the first showers that the Emirate was blessed with and I drove past it to the International Coffee and Tea Festival. It’s second, year in Dubai and my first to a Tea festival of any sort. As I made my way past the numerous tea stalls and booths, ‘Award winning Tea’ caught my attention and I walked over to the Lumbini Tea’ booth. What follows is a Tea Ambassador’s tale.
There a kind man with his welcoming smile greeted me. He proudly showed me his award winning extra special tea blend and other blends that the company produced.
As he showed me around the stall he mentioned that a major part of his life had been spent in tea estates. In his words “Tea is in my blood. Tea is my life.”
I tasted some tea and walked on. On my drive back all that was in my thoughts was how there are so many experienced people who literally have their life journey as a testimony to tea. And most of them are not known.
I knew I had to go back and have a cup of tea with him. More than the blends that his company produced, I wanted to know his story in Tea.
He is Mr. Chaminda Jayawardana, the Managing Director of Lumbini Tea. A family owned business. They are pioneers of quality tea in Sri Lanka.
Unique is the path of a particular tea blend and so is the story of a man whose life has been among tea plantations and estates. Years of experience and skill are what differentiate a tea specialist from a tea lover. Although they venture through different paths, the passion for tea is what unites them.
The year was 1975. A local teacher purchased a tea estate out of his love for tea. By the year 1984, he had established Lumbini Tea Factory (PVT) Ltd in Deniyaya, Sri Lanka. Thus was born Lumbini Tea under the leadership of Mr. Dayapala Jayawardana (Pictured below with his wife).
In Sri Lanka, a unique tea culture of its own was only taking root and people were not able to differentiate good tea from bad.
Mr. Jayawardana realized the scale of the task he had on hand and sought to offer the Sri Lankan people good quality tea. This marked the start to a complete turnaround phase where quality control measures were implemented starting right from plantation to packaging.
This meant more skilled work on the fields as well as immense support from small farmers in the region.
As in any business environment, change is sometimes seen in a negative light most likely because that change involves a higher level of dedication and hard work. But Mr. Jayawardana stood by his vision and took the company to new peaks implementing high standards.
During this time Chaminda Jayawardana grew up visiting his father’s tea estate and playing in the tea plantation. After completing his high school Chaminda expressed his desire to work alongside his father.
Rather than take him under his wings right away, his father sent him to train at another tea factory. This is where Chaminda’s journey with tea began and matured. He spent a couple of years working in tea plantations alongside tea pickers, then moving onto learning the manufacturing process and finally being a specialized tea taster. Mr. Chaminda Jayawardana made his entry into Lumbini Tea in the year 2000. He instantly became a strong pillar in the functioning of the company under the guidance of his father.
In the year 2002, Lumbini tea experienced international success for the first time by winning three awards for selected grades in the Specialty Tea Competition held in the USA.
Following the companies win, twenty international tea specialists visited the Lumbini Tea Factory and Plantation in Sri Lanka and commended the company’s efforts in producing the highest quality of tea.
The recognition that Lumbini Tea received in the USA was a source of encouragement to Mr. Chaminda.
Traditionally in Sri Lanka tea would be purchased by Tea brokers and sold at the Tea Auction to authorized buyers who would then export the tea.
In the year 2006, the company attained its biggest milestone by becoming the first manufacturing tea company in Sri Lanka to obtain an official license to export tea. This enabled the company to expand its reach to international markets.
In the years that followed, Lumbini Tea was the Number one Tea plantation in Sri Lanka for five years straight with their tea’s being bid at the highest auction prices.
In Sri Lanka, people prefer to have pure black tea without the addition of milk or sugar, occasionally spiced with fresh ginger or cardamom.
Mr. Chaminda enjoys his tea alongside the popular local dessert, Hakaru (Jaggery pudding).
Hakaru is traditionally prepared by steaming Jaggery until it thickens. The thick mixture is poured onto half of a cracked coconut shell, which is then joined and allowed to cool down. Once it hardens it is removed from the shell and enjoyed as a delicacy while drinking tea.
He also enjoys his Bed- Tea or breakfast tea with milk as well as Afternoon tea, which is accompanied by fried, crunchy snacks or biscuits.
Of course, we couldn’t be talking about tea without having some tea. I was served a special tea called the ‘Manjary’ (Rose bud tea). The black tea leaves are skillfully shaped into rose buds using the tea leaves and stem. It takes six days of careful skilled work to produce 1 KG of this tea.
Two point five grams of tea were measured and added to a teacup. The tea was then allowed to steep for seven minutes. The steeped tea was a smooth black tea blend with subtle floral notes to it.
Of the awards and accolades that the company has received, this particular award stays very close to Mr. Chaminda’s heart. In the year 2010, Lumbini Tea participated in the Innovative Tea category in the Specialty Tea Competition held in Japan.
Mr. Chaminda provided a challenge to his workers to come up with an innovative tea of their own, of which he would select one for the competition and reward them with price money.
The workers did their best and submitted their respective artful creations. Mr. Chaminda selected a ring-shaped work of tea art for the competition. He wanted the perfect name and approached one of his earliest teachers in tea for help.
His teacher suggested the name ‘Jayachakra’. The name reflects two elements. The word ‘Jaya’ was taken from his father’s surname (Jayawardana) and the word ‘Chakra’ means ‘ring’. I like to interpret it as the ‘unending ring of tea’.
When the name was unveiled to his family, he was mocked since they thought he should have picked a modern name for an International competition. He stood by his name of choice. Out of a total of eighty different teas that were exhibited, three teas were selected from Sri Lanka. The ‘Lumbini Jayachakra’ went on to win the Gold Award at the competition in Japan.
The creator of the award winning tea was Mr. Hemapala. He is a senior worker with over 35 years of experience in the tea industry.
Mr. Chaminda went on to have the design patented for which Mr. Hemapala continues to earn royalty money.
Today I met a humble man in the vast ocean of tea. A person dedicated to making pure tea known around the world. Someone with grounded principles and a work ethic rooted in years of hard word and perseverance. Someone who appreciates his team of workers and their skill set.
As with any family business, prosperity completely depends on how family members work together as a team. He dedicates the success of the company and its ventures to the unfaltering support of his father.
As I sip on some Lumbini Tea and reflect on our conversation, I feel a sense of joy at having met an Ambassador of Tea.