Sri Lankan Sojourns: A Nice Ceylonese Cuppa.
During all the time we traveled in Sri Lanka, we never managed to find a decent cup of coffee – hardly surprising really when it was noted by Sir James Emerson Tennent during his post as colonial secretary to Ceylon back in 1845 that despite coffee plants being prevalent on the island, the locals had no idea how to use them! Apparently, Sri Lankans used the coffee leaves to flavour their curries, and the flowers to decorate their temples.
Trust the British then to develop coffee plantations on such a commercial scale as to create an unsustainable mono-culture that required the destruction of hundreds of acres of indigenous mountain rain forests in order to plant their coffee crops. This process ultimately created the demise of the Ceylonese coffee industry in that the unshaded coffee crops were exposed to the effects of devastating ‘coffee rust’, the fungus Hemileia vastatrix, or Emily as it was nicknamed.
So not surprisingly, Brunyfire and Co. turned to tea, and how fitting that we should really start our tea journey in Inkredible Kandy. En-route to Kandy, via the Ceylon Tea Museum……………..walking along the beautifully restored timber walkways with the slightest whiff of tea still traceable amidst the tawny timbers………..………we learn a little of the tea history of old Ceylon – synonymous with the names of people like Taylor and Lipton.Kandy by name, candy by nature it seemed in terms of some of the city’s b & b’s that cling to the hillside – one in particular we had sought out specifically to stay in. Our destination for the evening was Helga’s Folly an original Sri Lankan mansion set into the jungle overlooking Kandy lake. Helga’s Folly is not a boutique or a ‘starred emporium’ – so if expecting a hotel experience, best look elsewhere! So the advertising goes! Helga’s Folly currently belongs to Helga de Silva Blow Perera, a former model – who, by all accounts looks just as stunning into her 60s as she did during the 1960s during her London society days. She grew up in the house she calls her ‘anti hotel’ – the place she uses as a ‘canvas’ on which to reflect her personality and her life history.And this she does with gay abandon in every room of the place, and on every surface. The place is chockers with beautiful things, from valuable looking antiques to walls plastered with newspaper cuttings recounting the derringdos of the rich and famous and their not so clandestine trysts. The eclectic nature of the house is her mother’s design when it was first turned into a hotel, the ‘madness’ as she refers to the wild interior decor, is entirely hers. Not only is her personality depicted throughout the building in all its gaudy and wayward abstraction, but her personal life is on show for all to see as well in the groups of family photos that are everywhere. Her life has not always been as happy, Helga has known tragedy in the past with a husband and a daughter-in-law who took their own lives. Amongst the plethora of family photos, draped with spiderwebs and the past corpses of butterflies and the odd beetle, is one of London society’s tragics, daughter-in-law Isabella Blow – an English magazine editor and muse of hat designer Philip Treacy – a charismatic character who wore the most fabulous head gear as much to prevent over zealous kissers (she preferred to kiss those she loved, not have socialites force themselves upon her) as to make a fashion statement.
But it was here in Kandy, in this crazy Miss Haversham meets the Adams Family home of memories, with the surrounding area’s humidity, cool temperatures and high rainfall providing the climate for the production of high quality tea – that we enjoyed our first real cuppa of the trip with a full cooked English breakfast.Our second great cuppa, piping hot tea made with condensed milk, was sampled when we caught the tiny, hard-working little steam train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya, another tea growing area…….……..and whilst enduring the slow, four hour trip to the high country…….. ………we enjoyed stunning views of tea plantations and waterfalls – Sri Lanka never lacks for water it seems and is permanently verdant. The following day, this time back in the car and on our way to Ella, we stop off for a hike up Little Adams Peak with its fabulous views and which enables us a first hand, and close up view of tea…….……….and the Tamil tea-pickers. Finally though, all good things must come to an end, and so it is with our Sri Lankan sojourn. Back to Bruny, clutching our sample of fine Sri Lankan tea, and back to the grip of a cold and wet Tasmanian winter. But we’re not too bothered, armed with the recent memories and a warming and welcome fire, we brew up in the Boathouse………………..using a set of ceramic ware with an interesting story of its own.
Several years ago, Brunyfire had the run of the Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts housed at the State Library in Hobart. An interesting Heritage collection of paintings, furniture, ceramics, glass, silverware, and more, all displayed in a series of rooms that reflected the domestic interior of a Hobartian home of wealth during the 1800s.
Alice at the Allport was a fantasical project curated by Brunyfire that invited ceramic artists of national/international reknown to contribute works to the Alice in Wonderland theme within these rooms as well as to hold an Alice themed tea party for the public during 2007’s Ten Days on the Island. The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party was the highlight of the project and as part of this, Brunyfire had invited a number of 2dimensional artists to draw their version of Alice, which were turned into decals created by Fiona and Jon of Inkpot to print the decals, which Brunyfire applied and fired onto ware donated by a local city store.
Of the teasets produced, Brunyfire’s favourite was always Lindsay Broughton’s – and so I made a set for myself that has pride of place within the Boathouse……..……….and was first used with our precious but limited stock of Sri Lankan tea.