The distinct smell of tea mixed with hints of jasmine and strawberry welcomed me as I entered the office of Ceylanka Trading Inc., the company responsible for the presence of the “Island Tea Company” brand in Cebu.
I breathe in. Heaven is on earth. That familiar aroma reminded me of my days in Hangzhou and Fuzhou,
China, where I immersed myself in the country’s tea culture and later transformed my litro-pack powdered juice system to a loose leaf tea lover.
It was 10:45 in the morning. I stood up as two gentlemen shook my hands and led me to a small room.
We sat down and I started with the question: “What inspired you to bring Ceylon tea to Cebu?” and the planned one-hour interview easily evolved into an animated yet calm conversation on tea.
Seated across me were Sri Lankan nationals Minodh de Sylva (director of Ceylanka Trading) and Ishan De Lanerolle (marketing director of Abacus Tea Private Limited), who took me to Sri Lanka via a narration of how a Scottish man named James Taylor planted 19 acres of tea trees in the city of Kandy in the year 1867.
That became the first commercial tea plantation of Sri Lanka, which was then a British crown colony known as “Ceylon.”
A small country located northeast of the Maldives and southeast of India, Sri Lanka is the source of what is regarded as the world’s best tea.
Ishan said this is because of the geographical location where tea is planted.
Soil quality, humidity and temperature are some of the contributing factors which brought about the high quality standard of Ceylon tea.
Tea leaves are picked manually requiring the careful hands of laborers, which also makes the price of Ceylon tea higher than those from other countries.
Ishan and Minodh, who are childhood friends exposed in different areas of business, saw the opportunity to raise people’s awareness of Ceylon tea at a price that, in my opinion, does not do justice to the quality of tea that they serve.
Married to a Filipino citizen, Minodh embarked on a quest to change the psyche of Filipinos that tea is a luxurious commodity meant only for the rich.
With the opening of the first Island Tea Company kiosk in Robinsons Cybergate last Oct. 26, Minodh said they are creating a brand that aims to let Filipinos experience high quality tea at a fraction of the cost. That means setting aside high profit margins in exchange for market
promotion and education.
“The kiosk is set up right in the middle of the mall where people can pass by and see how tea is made,” said Minodh.
One more kiosk will open in SM City Cebu this December and another one will open at Robinsons Galleria within the first quarter of 2018.
Minodh said they decided to open their first store in Cebu because food and beverage consumption is in an upward trend in the Philippines with certain market segments who eat out in restaurants and spend time in coffee shops.
The menu is an interesting spread of tea variants which showcases the many splendored beverages that will come out from mixing tea with other ingredients.
For Ishan, whose company supplies the tea sold under the Island Tea Company brand, the idea to go retail is a testament of their commitment to have people taste good quality tea without intimidating them with high prices or locations in five-star hotels.
This comes from the man who is part of the company which provided tea to the Queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
His company exports to countries such as the United Kingdom, United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and Russia, among others.
This year, Ceylon tea finally landed in Cebu, Philippines.
With loose leaf tea concoctions ranging from traditional hot teas, flavored black teas, flavored fruit teas, healthy teas, milk teas, iced teas, tea shakes and—get ready for it—tea mocktails, Island Tea Company is poised to regal Cebuanos with a tea experience that no sugar-laden kiosks can ever accomplish.
A final note: All these tea treats can be enjoyed without sugar so you can enjoy every drink savoring the flavor of the real thing.
There is more in store for Cebu as Ceylon tea found its way here in the city … and it is all happening at the Island Tea Company.
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