One of the great perks of my job is working with people who know a lot more than I do. On June 19th we presented the latest in the TeaSource Tea Masters workshops featuring Chaminda Jayawardana, the managing director of Lumbini Tea Factory, Deniyaya, Sri Lanka. Lumbini is one of the most awarded tea gardens/factories on Sri Lanka.
Chaminda and I had an absolute great time working together—and once again I came out of these workshops learning far more than I knew going in.
But before the workshop we had to stop and get some tea; at TeaSource in St Anthony, MN. Chaminda was traveling with his close friend, colleague, neighbor, and direct competitor Dissanayake Mudiyanselage Harris Ukkika Mahadiulwewa (henceforth referred to as “Harris”). One of the many things I love about the tea business is that competitors can be close friends; and neither the business nor the friendship has to suffer. That’s me on the left, Harris in the middle, and Chaminda on the right.
Chaminda and Harris had never tried high quality Taiwanese Jade oolongs before, so we indulged with some Tung Ting Light Roast Oolong.
Ringing Chaminda up at the St Anthony TeaSource. He saw tea paraphernalia he had never seen before, and yes, I gave him a discount.
Me, Chaminda, and Harris at St Anthony. Harris was impressed when he saw wooden tea chests from Lumbini (and other tea gardens) throughout the store.
And I got to play tour guide, taking Chaminda and Harris for a walk along the Mississippi, exploring Minnehaha Falls, visiting the Stone Arch Bridge Festival and Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis (we do have 10,000 lakes after all), and ending up at Guitar Center in Roseville, they don’t’ have Guitar Center stores in Deniyaya, Sri Lanka and Chaminda is a musician in addition to being a tea master.
Back at the TeaSource warehouse in Roseville. In preparation for the 50 people coming in for the workshop, we scavenged every chair and table throughout the building and arranged them in the open warehouse space for participants—which meant that we had nothing left in our offices/cupping room etc. Chaminda had brought 2 new samples of tea he wanted me to try. So rather than cupping them up in our cupping room (which at that point was just an empty space with no chairs or tables), we decided to sample and evaluate these teas on the customer ledge by our office administrator’s desk. We were sampling two Lumbini samples of grade OP1 grade Ceylon black tea, for some blending we will be doing later this year.
The warehouse tour for workshop participants. It always surprises me how many people want a tour of our work space.
Chaminda and I start talking about tea. Chaminda’s role was to be the expert and to make sure everyone (including me) walked out knowing a lot more about growing Ceylon tea, than we knew coming in. My role was mostly comic relief and amazement at the tea-maker’s craft. We had a lot of fun together.
Lumbini Estate (and all Ceylon tea gardens) had only dealt with tea brokers until I convinced Chaminda to bypass brokers and sell directly to wholesale customers. Chaminda and Lumbini now sell direct to more than 15 countries across the world. TeaSource was first.
This Lumbini Silver Needles is the first tea I bought from Chaminda. I brought back 2 gigantic duffle bags stuffed with this tea when I flew back from my first visit to Lumbini. To me the most amazing part of this tea is the fact that Chaminda had never heard of Chinese Yin Zhen (Chinese Silver Needle white tea), when he created his own Silver Needles.
The TeaSource infographic on Ceylon and Ceylon teas. It shows all the major growing regions, and Lumbini Tea Factory.
I took a couple of minutes to read from my great grandfather’s memoir. He was in Ceylon in the 1860’s and 1870’s helping establish the first tea gardens.
“I will mention here a few things a young tea planter should learn as soon as possible. First and foremost he must learn to speak to the coolies in their own language - the Tamil. He must learn how to make nurseries from seed or cutting, how to prune and care for the crops, drain and make roads in the new plantation. He must also learn to design and superintend the building, whether in wattle and dab for the coolies’ “huts” or in brick and stone for his own building. He must learn something of sickness and the simple medicines to give. He should, by all means, know enough to sew a button, in an extremity ….
I wish here to remark on my affection for the kindness, and “bon comradie” (sic) of all the tea planters I met in Ceylon. We used to meet at each other’s bungalows and have a “sing a song.” Each one had to sing a song and tell a story, or drink a glass of salt and water. I shall never forget those days.”
From “The Life and Travels of Augustus Waddington”
an unpublished memoir, 1870
Augustus Waddington, Welsh tea man in Ceylon
Chaminda examining the leaf, and explaining the detail of why Lumbini teas are so special and have won so many awards. They are all hand-plucked and orthodox processed, i.e. minimal use of machines during processing. It is so much fun to listen to someone who is expert and passionate about their field.
Everyone sampled six Ceylon different teas (and went home with a couple of more). One of the amazing things about Ceylon teas is that while it is a small island: the diversity of tea styles, flavors, is huge.
- Lumbini Silver Needles | White Tea
- Oodooware Estate, Pekoe | Black Tea
- Gonapitiya Estate, FBOP | Black Tea
- Ceylon Blend Mid-Grown | Black Tea Blend
- Ceylon Burning Sun | Black Tea Blend
- Inverness Estate, FBOPF1 | Black Tea
“Stick your nose in the cup.” During workshops I say that a lot. Tea is as much an olfactory experience as it is a taste experience.
The community of Twin Cities tea enthusiasts has grown quite large and is …. well …. enthusiastic. And it is a whole lot of fun when we all get together and sample and talk teas.
And of course, since this was a celebration (of Ceylon teas) everyone had to walk home with some swag bags.
Me, autographing a Ceylon tea poster—that was a little unusual, but wisely the participant had asked for Chaminda’s autograph first.
Chaminda and one of the many appreciative attendees. People did seem to have a great time.
Good tea makes good friends. Lumbini is some of the best tea, so it’s not surprising it has led to one of the best friendships.