JAKARTA — According to legend, the world’s oldest beverage came about by accident more than 4,000 years ago, when a draft blew some tea leaves into a pot of boiling water being prepared for Shen Nung, the Chinese emperor known as “the divine farmer.” Divine intervention, maybe? Whatever the provenance of that fateful gust, it was not the first farce — or tragedy — to propel the tea industry forward and eventually globalize what was for thousands of years an Asian drink. As recently as the late 16th century, a handful of Japanese Christian pilgrims in Rome prompted much curiosity among their hosts by making tea: Locals assumed at first that the drink was just boiled water, according to “Tea: The Drink That Changed The World,” a 2007 book by John Griffiths. Kakuzo Okakura’s “The Book of Tea,” a 1906 paean to tea culture, suggested that the drink — by then almost as much of a staple in parts of Europe and North American as it had long been in Asia — could be a liquid bridge between East and West. Tea, wrote the Japanese scholar, who was also known as Tenshin Okakura, “has not the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa.”
JAKARTA — The tea industry has watched in envy as coffee’s cachet has skyrocketed across Asia, and now it wants a piece of the action. But it faces a difficult challenge: How to convince people that something they’ve been quaffing like water all their lives can be a premium product. Eliawati Erly, vice president of David Roy Indonesia, the local distributor for Sri Lankan brand Dilmah Tea, recognizes that developing a culture of cool around tea won’t be easy. “People are accustomed to having tea and teh botol (bottled tea drinks sold in shops) since they are young,” she said. Erly and others in the tea industry are well-aware of how coffee companies have benefited from promoting the ethical sourcing of beans and the distinct qualities of single-origin roasts from specific regions.
JAKARTA — Businessmen clad in batik shirts tap on laptops and smartphones, while women in designer Muslim garb chat over pots of hot chai and browse menus listing hundreds of teas, from the exotic (Yellow Gold Tea Buds from China) to the commonplace (English Breakfast). This crowd, a mix of old and young and mostly well-to-do, has made the TWG shop in the Pacific Place mall in Jakarta a lively meeting point in the city. With dozens of these boutique tea shops across Asia offering fine dining and veneered furnishings, Singapore’s The Wellbeing Group, known as TWG, is trying “to bring a new era of tea appreciation” in the region, said Trixie Anindita, the group’s communication and operation manager in Indonesia.
Indigahadoowa, Sri Lanka – Tea-grower D.M. Sudumenink is nearly 70 years old and has won prizes for her produce. All the same, the retired schoolteacher is keen to know more about how she can improve her tea-growing and keep her cropland clean.