05/10/2012, 00.00
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Ceylon tea to lose its purity if blended with foreign varieties

by Melani Manel Perera
The Sri Lanka Tea Board comes out in favour of blended varieties to increase overall revenues. The island nation is the world's main exporter of 'Pure Ceylon Tea,' a finely aromatic but expensive variety of tea. In order to cut prices, foreign companies mix it with lower quality tea, but the government criticises the move, warning it could undermine the country's reputation.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - For the first time in its history, Sri Lanka, one of the world's largest tea producers and exporters, might allow cheaper imported teas to be blended with the more expensive Sri Lankan varieties. "The objective is to increase overall revenues while protecting our brand image," Sri Lanka Tea Board chief Janaki Kuruppu said yesterday. Some members of the Sri Lankan government disagree, warning that such a move might contaminate and compromise overall domestic production.

The tea arrived in Sri Lanka in 1849 thanks to a Scotsman, and since then is the main export product. The so-called "Pure Ceylon Tea" is highly aromatic and prized, and so much more expensive than other varieties. Thus, foreign companies tend to mix it with a cheaper tea of inferior quality, from Kenya, Indonesia and China, to sell at lower prices.

"Sri Lanka - said Kuruppu - must have a realistic view of the global market and profit from mixing processes, without losing its reputation as a source of fine and aromatic tea." For this, he adds, "any type of tea imported for blending, would be very carefully controlled to ensure high standards and protect the domestic industry."

In 2011, the country sold 323 thousand tons of tea leaves, for a profit of 1.49 billion dollars (1.1 billion euros). According to the President of Sri Lanka Tea Board, with tea already mixed entering the market, profits would increase exponentially.

In government, however, there is opposition to the proposal. In front of 200 delegates at the conference of worldwide distributors of Dilmah Tea, held in Colombo yesterday, Treasury Secretary PB Jayasundera said: "The Government of Sri Lanka must not allow our tea be polluted with a variety of poor quality. If there is a product that we should preserve and protect at any cost, it is our tea. We are confident that we can develop our industry locally, earning 3 billion US dollars (about 2.3 billion euros) over the next 10 years.



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