I've already talked about Orthodox Black Tea at Galaboda in the last couple of blogs, this time I want to talk about Tsara Green Tea. I was still a guest at Galaboda in the south of Sri Lanka and while interviewing Dr Sanjeewa De Silva he filled me in on how Tsara Green Tea came about. As I mentioned previously the doctor had given up practicing medicine in England to return to Sri Lanka to carry on the family business. That part is fairly straightforward, it's what he did when he returned, and what he's doing now that's of interest to me, of interest because he rolled the dice.
When the doctor returned he approached the industry in a very pragmatic way. Sri Lanka is bursting with tea estates, many of which fall under corporate umbrellas, and how does a relatively small estate compete with corporate economies of scale. That is a problem that faces many of the older traditional tea estates. When faced with overwhelming odds something different must be brought to the table in order to survive and that's where the doctor did his homework. Today’s consumer is more conscientious, is more informed, especially where additives, preservatives and the environment are concerned. Organic foods have gained huge traction in recent years and have become big business globally, why not tea?
There is a distinct movement towards ‘wholesome’ products afoot and those that offer an organic alternative to the mass produced status quo have a good chance of finding new markets. This isn't necessarily an easy transition however. To be classified ‘organic’ requires long term commitments from producers and a certificate by a recognized authority attached to each product so consumers can purchase with the knowledge that product fulfills its organic claim. In the case of Tsara Tea that certificate comes from Switzerland.
The decision to go ‘green’ at Galaboda has its roots in the doctors background in medicine and a suggestion from his sister. The medicinal merits offered by green tea are well documented, but to take something that is supposed to offer health benefits and encourage its growth in an unwholesome way, ie. with the use of fertilizers, is counter productive to the process. With that in mind the doctor made the decision to go 100% organic. If green tea is supposed to be good, then let’s make it as good as it can be, but not just for the consumer but for the environment as well, that was his thinking.
So, new crops were planted, a new green tea factory was built alongside the black orthodox factory and the doctor and his main man went to China to learn all about the process. Months later they returned to Sri Lanka and started Tsara Tea, a new Galaboda brand that would offer nothing but the best in organic green tea. Different green teas would be offered but the pinnacle product would be their ‘Champagne Green Tea,’ made exclusively from buds, no leaves in the mix, not a single one, just 100% organic buds. That's quite a break from an orthodox black tea past, kind of exciting I'd say!
With an eye to covering the Tsara green tea angle I headed for the green tea factory with camera in tow and filmed the process there. The first thing I noticed about the factory was its physical size, it was contained on a single floor and was a fraction the size of the black tea factory. It was new and all the machines were laid out in order of processing on a bright shiny concrete floor. Immediately to the left upon entering was the steamer that began the process and all the way to the right was the dryer that was the last stage before packaging. In between was an area for rolling. The size of the factory floor was telling in that it wasn’t built for huge volumes of leaves and buds passing through, the best way I can describe it would be to liken it to a car assembly line. The black tea factory was equivalent to machine assembled cars on a production line whereas the green tea was produced in lower numbers by hand.
I enjoyed my time in the factory though I had a hard time keeping the sweat from my eyes due to the heat. That aside it was bright, clean and modern and where the Galaboda factory echoed themes from a long black tea past the Tsara factory sought to create new green tea themes in the future. Only time will tell whether the doctor's decision was a wise one but I personally think he's onto something. Niche markets exist because there are always those that want something better, in this case certified 100% organic green tea, and they will pay a higher price for what is not only perceived as, but is, a better product.