‘The world is looking for health benefits’ he tells me while dragging his fifth cigarette. He says he drinks ten to twelve cups of white tea in the morning.
White tea is an anti-carcinogenic, anti-oxidant and apparently slows down the aging process. It is sold at USD 1500 a kilo by retailers worldwide and from what i hear, its quite addictive.
Handungoda planatations, pretty much the only tea plantation in Sri Lanka that grows white tea is situated off Galle in the town of Koggala. Inside its like a different world. There are hills and lots of trees. From the bungalow all you can see its greenery. It seem like someplace closer to the hills that just a mile from the coast ‘as the crow flies’ (but what if it had to take a car?)
White tea is famous for its anti aging properties, and Handungoda is making a killing out of it. Costs involve basically nothing. Tea pluckers pluck the tea stalks dressed like surgeons (i’ll get to why later), dry it in the shade, dry it in under a fan and then dry it under the sun. Ans presto, you have tea worth its weight in cheap gold.
Pluckers dress like surgeons in order to avoid touching the tea. All this comes from an ancient Chinese tradition dating back to the 6th century AD when the Chinese would cut tea stalks with golden scissors in begloved hands and drop the cut stalk into golden bowls. And then present it to the emperor.
Of course, a modern business wouldn’t engage in such tomfoolery if there wasn’t any actual benefit in not touching the tea. And as Herman Guneratne discovered when he went to France and met an old perfumer (details are unclear if this meeting took place as some chance encounter in a dark alleyway in the rue de paris) who imparted to him that knowledge that the sweat of the plucker invariably transfers itself to the item. The perfumer showed him several jasmines picked from around the world and challenged him to mix them up and see if he couldn’t tell you which Jasmine was from where.
Apparently he identifies smells from around the world based on the kind of food that the plucker consumes. You exhume what you consume and after that ‘it all gets very logical’.
After Herman bumped into this bit of insight, things fell into place in hi head, and he was off making what would soon become the best white tea in the world. A chance analysis also confirmed that it possessed over 10% of antioxidants (the highest found in any beverage) and this soon became Handungoda Tea’s unique selling point.
Nothing special is needed to get this going. According to Herman himself, almost any plantation could get down to doing this. But they don’t have the motivation and the knowledge (he says they possess the bush in their plantations but do not know what it is – probably very frustrating if you’re a wannabe white tea grower). Sri Lankan growers do not have the savvy for innovative product development and branding. We are sitting on a goldmine of a tea industry but don’t see its potential according to him.
He says there is huge potential for innovative planters to make enormous killings. He makes more out of 10 kilos of white tea (his current monthly production) than the whole of the rest of his plantation combined.