Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Signs of changing times in Sri Lanka

The other day I walked into a little shop to buy a tub of yoghurt. While I was eating the yoghurt I noticed tea being served to some other customers, nothing very unusual in that given that most small shops are really tea shops with a few other items of food and drink thrown in, but the customers were being served with tea bags! Tea bags?? Good grief.

I looked around and I saw a few other customers, also being served with tea bags. Bemused, I asked the cashier if they had stopped making tea in the traditional way, out of cheapest available tea leaves (or more often tea dust or sweepings) and his answer was that it was easier to cater to customer preferences with tea bags - there would be no complaints that the tea was too weak or too strong, the customer could make it as he desired.

Until fairly recently, tea bags were an unheard of thing in Sri Lanka. I remember being mystified as a child as to how tea could come in a bag. When we eventually did learn as to what a tea bag was, it was still something exotic, bought by foreign buyers, not something consumed in the domestic market. When big hotels and cafe's like the Barista chain started using tea bags it still seemed pretty isolated which is why I was so surprised to see them being used by the common man. I have vivid memories of tea being brewed in wayside kiosks, the vendor pouring the milk tea from one large glass to another, to cool it down. The tea was poured out from a considerable height and would froth like a beer is the glass below.

Reminds of the time when ice-cream tubs were made of cardboard and the spoons were of wood (I think), like the matches made of wood, lunch packets wrapped in plantain leaves (not lamprais, these were just ordinary lunch packets - the plantain leaf being the cheapest thing to wrap them in), Morris Minor taxis, dustmen who used to walk down the lane to collect the dustbins from houses (no dumping garbage onto communal dustbins or leaving them on the road, the dustmen called at each and every house), rickshaws as a mode of transport (I only ever saw children riding in them, though) and haircuts that cost two rupees each, not to mention a time when one and two cent coins had value and were eagerly collected by children. Now beggars throw back anything less than two rupees.

Sigh. I think I'm getting old.

9 comments:

samanalee said...

Tea bags!? TEA BAGS!??
*sigh*

Lady divine said...

hmm...
I used to work for an FMCG company and let me tell you something..
If you look at the cost per cup (for the retailer) it is cheaper and more convenient for them to use tea bags and this has been proved....
but in terms of 'that real cup of tea'....there is a change like you've mentioned...

I always liked tea bags... in fact one of my best tea brands is Yellow Label coz I like it strong.:)

and well... everything's changing..and the prices are forever rising more than they're supposed to.... sigh..

sucks to the core...:(

santhoshi said...

I guess times are changing....

Jack Point said...

The economics of tea bags must have changed.

I used to think that the shops would reuse the tea leaves through the day (or at least make several batches with one lot of leaves) but maybe I was wrong, although it was apparently the practise amongst teh poor in Victorian England.

I personally prefer leaf tea to bags and Lipton Ceylonta is one of my favourites, although Dilmah is also on par.

pissu perera said...

the day i realized sri lanka was changing was when i bought a packet of ice tea at a grocery shop. admittedly, it wasn't your regular petti kade but stil, ice tea? it's yummy though, the heladiv stuff. slightly pricey but perfect for this weather.

Johann said...

Nice post brings back many memories of the 70'80 & early 90's.Ice Palam from EH was a favorite in those days, Ice Cream tasted more the better and as my Grandmother says "In the good old day"

"Growing OLD"??? No it is maturity my friend, it's only maturity. I like to put it that way it helps with the hurt that the legs are slowing and not as what they use to be.

TEA, oh that wonderful thing that we are so luck to have in our country but very seldom appreciate BIG TIME!!

I love a strong cup at anytime more than the cooled stuff or any other beverage.

Abracadabra said...

Its a very sad day indeed when the local kade starts serving tea in tea bags.

I am notorious in all the companies i have worked for that i still make my tea from scratch using lose tea leaves even though they have the lipton tea bags in the kitchen. [yuck]

I even have some other co-workers ask me to make them a cup of real tea when i go to make my daily morning / afternoon tea.

human said...

That is a beautiful post about a beautiful past! That made me realize I am getting old too! I know change is something no one can avoid. But sometimes I think we are losing something precious. Look at the old time stuff you mentioned. "...ice-cream tubs were made of cardboard and the spoons were of wood, like the matches made of wood, lunch packets wrapped in plantain leaves...rickshaws as a mode of transport...". They all have something in common. They are all Environmentally friendly stuff. They are free of all sorts of chemicals that poison the environment. Now alarm bells are ringing everywhere. Just a few days ago another huge ice shelf broke away from the Antarctica. Climate change is already affecting a lot of people. As the more develop countries are beginning to try and reduce pollution, we are traveling in the opposite direction. Maybe somebody has to make Sinhalese and Tamil versions of the movies 'Day after tomorrow' and the 'Inconvenient Truth' and screen them free of charge everywhere! When I was small I used to think those 'environment guys' like Greenpeace are crazy guys who like to make a big fuss about nothing. Because they say all the cool stuff are bad for the environment. Now I don't see things that way. I am really getting old!

Jack Point said...

Thanks for the comments Human, saw them only now.

Ice palam's were a real treat, in their cardboard wrappers. The battle was to eat the thing before it melted and dissloved the cardboard in the process.

I also remember someting called "Windmill Sandwiches" probably from a restaurant call"Windmill" remember that we used to love them but never seemed to know where they came from.