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A glimpse into Indonesian tea culture

We, Sri Lankans, are proud of our tea heritage and culture that is unique and distinct. However, not far from us in the Southeast Asian archipelago of Indonesia, among the diversity of scenic beauty and ethnic heritage they celebrate a distinctly special tea culture.

Southeast Asian archipelago of Indonesia
Southeast Asian archipelago of Indonesia

The advent of tea in this lyrical medley of mysterious lagoons, looming volcanoes and Komodo dragons began in the seventeenth century with the Dutch; who were eager to produce a profitable yield from this much sought for the plant. Today, the tea grown in the fertile volcanic terraces of Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi have their roots in Indian Assam and Ceylon plantations of 200 years ago; their present-day yields ironically in competition with the high-grade teas of Sri Lanka.

The tea gardens in Indonesia
The tea gardens in Indonesia

For most Indonesian youth and adults alike, the morning tea rite is essential to start the day with a good dose of health and harmony.  Many of the locals associate drinking tea together as a family with upholding kindred ties; its energizing properties are viewed as vital to carry out a wholesome day’s work. The charming tea plantations themselves are often graced with tourist cottages, swimming pools and children’s parks. The misty mountain peaks also make an effective backdrop for teledramas.

Each picturesque province has a slightly different palate for tea along with diverse natural and cultural attractions that make them heavenly for food-lovers enamoured with travelling.  

Java’s great city of Bandung was developed solely for the benefit of tea plantation owners and is the perfect tourist spot with its gorgeous ‘crater lakes,’ waterfalls, and hot springs that are not too far off from the metropolitan of fine art and architecture.  The Javanese love strong black tea sweetened with rock sugar and flavoured with jasmine leaves or flowers.  Poci tea, in some Javanese cities like Tegal, is brewed and served in a clay tea set and enjoyed with good company.

The Island of Sumatra boasts of one the world’s most unique landscapes, complete with super volcanoes, winding rivers and dense forest-cloaked mountains.   However, nothing is as mind-boggling as West Sumatra’s Teh Telur or ‘tea egg’; combining well-whisked eggs with Sumatran tea, sugar, cinnamon and condensed milk to produce a thick, frothy delicacy. This ombré hued drink is also rich in stamina-boosting proteins and has positive effects on eyesight that further raise it in esteem.

The tea culture of Indonesia aims to experiment with and enhance the natural flavours and nutritional value of its black and green tea blends.  Lemongrass and ginger are common additives to their sweet black teas and unique tea trends like tea- gelato are not unheard of there.  As this archipelago is a sundry blend of natural wonders and human creativity it’s no surprise that the Indonesian tea heritage is just as remarkable and prolific.

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