Sri Lanka's luxury tea makers rise to the occasion

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 May, 2013, 4:32am


A hot cup of Ceylon tea considered soothing and relaxing, but Sri Lanka is now marketing its most profitable export as a luxury boost for the libido.

The tea industry is increasingly plugging Ceylon's supposed aphrodisiac qualities in a bid to radically change perceptions of the brew, which manufacturers say can sell for less than water in some markets.

"We are highlighting the properties of tea that can give you an edge in the bedroom," said Rohan Fernando, whose firm HVA Foods sells a 60-gram jar of premium Ceylon for US$350.

"Tea has traditionally been the poor man's drink. We want to be at the top end of the supply chain," he said.

The industry may not yet have hard medical proof of Ceylon's performance-enhancing powers, but they have long been the stuff of legend among Sri Lankan tea lovers.

The brews known for their potency are the top-quality white teas, known as Silver Tips and Golden Tips, which are gaining popularity among well-heeled Chinese businessmen along with rich Saudis and Japanese.

Unlike orthodox teas, the white varieties are made with just the tender tea buds, which are sun-dried and carefully tended until they turn gold or silver.

The tea contains polyphenols, flavonoids and anti-oxidants - known to improve the immune system and blood circulation.

Leading tea maker Herman Gunaratne is also keen to promote such qualities in his rare "virgin white" tea, so called because it is untouched by human hands in production.

Tea broker Anil Cooke agreed that Ceylon - known by the country's colonial name - should be "re-positioned globally" with a focus on increasing its value.

Leading the way is Gunaratne's tea plantation, a key tourist attraction with a tea museum, tours and tasting sessions.

Despite cutting production from 20,000 to just 2,000 kg a day, his gourmet products now sell at 10 times the average retail price of loose tea in the local market.

Cooke said he was not sure if the aphrodisiac properties or the big bucks from his Ceylon had put a permanent smile on Gunaratne's face.