Promoting tea in a miracle cup | Daily News


Promoting tea in a miracle cup

Dr. Dmitry Afonin
Dr. Dmitry Afonin

“Mega trend for tea market is HEALTH, Proven health benefits. No doubt, highlighting the highest concentration of antioxidants in Ceylon Tea will put it in a very favourable position in the international Tea market.”

The best authorities on tea have already spoken that Ceylon tea is the best. To refresh this information will be interesting as well as important as a marketing tool to improve our situation outside.

There are so many producers of tea in the world who will always say that their tea is the best. Tea can come under many names or brands. The consumers will like them for many reasons, taste, odour, flavour, colour, health benefits among other sensory data associated with it.

There is always something indulgent about tea with its flavours ranging from robust to mild and fresh to piquant health benefits. Who would not like that bitterness in the humble brew that invokes devotion?

They say how you take your tea says something about yourself. I wonder how the Sri Lanka Tea Board will take it. Ceylon tea has lasted honourably for over 150 years since the British brought a tea plant from China and planted it in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya in 1824. Sri Lanka Tea Board has taken care of the Ceylon tea industry since its establishment in 1976, together with the Tea Research Institute, which was established in 1925. One cannot forget the role played by the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and Colombo Tea Traders’ Association formed in 1894 for the progress of the industry.

There is certainly an upward movement in prices but the market demand for tea greatly depends on how the global tea industry would progress. There will be a consistent market demand for good quality teas.

As the Russian scientist and tea producer, Dr. Dmitry Afonin put it, there are very interesting teas in the market which are going to catch high prices. "Don’t put boundaries on your tea production. You can produce any type of tea, which is very nice and of high quality compared to teas of other origins,” he said.

Dr. Dmitry Afonin, Graduate of Agricultural Academy, Moscow; Graduate of Language University Moscow, Post-graduate Moscow Diplomatic Academy and PhD in International Economics, has been in Sri Lanka since 1993. "I know something about Ceylon tea after 25 years of research. I have studied it for 25 years as a scientist and a producer. There is no doubt about it- Sri Lanka has the best of tea in the world".

“But the problem is that there are so many tea producers in the world and they will all say their teas are the best. That perhaps is true from their sensory perception, but what makes Ceylon tea best is not what the process with their senses, driven by their choice of taste, aroma, colour or flavour. But it is the class of molecules that are produced by tea bushes or plants – Latin name camellia sinesis – which are grown in terraces all over tropical and subtropical climates of Sri Lanka that makes it so special on the cell structure of the plant and concentration of antioxidants in the end-product,” elaborated Dr. Afonin.

Dr. Afonin manages Interagrocomplex Lanka J.V.(Pvt) Ltd MD, a BOI approved company since 1993 at Hapugolle Estate, Vilanegama in Kandy. The scientist cum businessman speaks very highly of Sri Lanka Tea Board’s work and commitment to developing the country’s tea sector. He expressed his profuse thankfulness to the Board for its support extended to him in extending his profile in tea research and his company’s business. “We produce Ceylon Tea (Camellia Sinensis). We were doing Black Orthodox Tea, Compressed Black Tea-the first to produce that variant in the country, Green Brick Tea-also first in Sri Lanka ) and Green Tea. And now are very much focusing on Research and Development (R&D) in the production of Teas with "non-common” pigmentation, enhanced health properties and innovative appearance," he said.

“Also,” he added, “we are doing intensive research in tea planting, namely regarding the correlation of planting conditions - reinforcement of the immune system of tea plants - an increase of antioxidant Power of tea – changes in natural pigmentation. It is very complicated and many resources – consuming programme.”

The Daily News interviewed Dr. Afonin to discuss his plan for promoting Ceylon tea in the global market.

Q: What is your proposal to uplift Ceylon Tea?

A: It is worthwhile and befitting from a marketing point of view that Sri Lanka will refresh the reputation it has been blessed with for the quality of Ceylon tea on a concrete biological footing by spotlighting its high antioxidant properties and phenol contents.

In fact, I have initially presented my proposal to the Board to make a comparative study on different teas of different origin.

We know what to check in the main beverage of humanity next to the water. With the result of such a study on physicochemical and antioxidant properties of different teas of different origins, we can refresh the knowledge of Sri Lanka’s Camellia sinensis (tea) and lay our brand, Ceylon Tea, above all teas of different origins with respect to quality.

Q: What are those properties in Ceylon tea that would put us in an advantaged disposition above other brands of tea produced in the world?

A: We have a precious product with the highest antioxidant activity compared to other teas. The content of micronutrients and polyphenols in Ceylon teas are superior to other tea. They are packed with antioxidants and health benefits. Tea polyphenols are one of the main bioactive constituents of tea with health functions. Assuredly, there are no other teas that can beat Ceylon tea in terms of health benefits. Tea was introduced outside China in the 16th century as a healing luxury beverage. Today we emphasize and revitalize to the respective consumers the unique properties of Ceylon High-Quality Tea, such as rejuvenating, cleansing, coping with stress, improving personal energy level, weight stabilizing and general health.

The antioxidants, predominantly found on locally grown tea plants are diverse polyphenols, including flavonoids, epigallocatechin gallate (commonly noted as EGCG) at first instance and other 6 -7 catechins. There are many other natural chemicals and combinations, which are also very powerful antioxidants.

Once we establish those properties through a well-planned programme through international accredited laboratories we can pronounce them to the world. We can then advertise or make it public that each cup of Ceylon tea contains more anti-oxidants with predominant health benefits compared to other tea.

It could be a very good marketing tool. When we say which tea is the best in this manner, it is like a doctorate in tea in the global market.

Q: Do you have any chemical testing or analysis on mind that will establish the parameters of those antioxidants present in Ceylon tea?

A: There should be a series of tests for antioxidants. One of the ways to measure antioxidants will be Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity or ORAC test. There are other tests that could be done but they could be complicated. In my opinion, it should be ORAC. People will understand it very clearly. The project should be a comparative study. It will involve some costs as the tests have to be carried out in a reputed international accredited laboratory or laboratories.

Q: Why should you as a Russian investor in Sri Lanka come out and propose this? What prompted you to promote this idea in the first place?

A: Look, I must say that Ceylon Tea industry has done me well. I was prompted by the idea that I should also do some good for the industry that has served me good for so many years. I and my family-, I have two children, and I have been living in this country with my wife, Olga for over two decades –are a part of the Ceylon tea industry.

Besides, I know the potential of Ceylon tea in the global market after my own study and research, including market research. I am confident that with natural Ceylon tea. Camellia sinensis, the evergreen bush of Sri Lanka whose buds and leafs are of excellent quality, can make all types of other tea products that are marketed in the world in terms of value added niche tea products that are found in the global markets, and if Ceylon tea makes them they will be of superior quality.

Q: What is the reason for that?

A: You cannot make a good shirt with bad fabric –that is fibre quality. Similarly, you cannot make a good cup of tea with tea leaves of poor quality. Ceylon tea is simply the best in the world in terms of its constituents of the tea polyphenols and antioxidants.

I am absolutely confident and I know also the opinion of other tea experts that mega-trend for tea market is HEALTH, Proven health benefits. No doubt, highlighting the highest concentration of antioxidants in Ceylon Tea will put it in a very favourable position in the international Tea market. Some additional comparative research should be done as soon as possible.

The branding of tea, in my deep conviction, should answer the question: “Why precisely Ceylon tea?”And the answer lies in the wide promulgation and advertising of the fact that Ceylon tea, in general, is superior to other teas in antioxidant content. But let it be confirmed by test results from leading internationally accredited laboratories.

Q: Such a project could involve a substantial sum and also the appointment of persons in the form of a committee to oversee the execution of the tasks. How about you play a role in it in your capacity as a scientist and an expert in tea research and business? If so how would you support?

A: I will be honoured to support the Sri Lanka Tea Board if it should make such an offer. And I will offer my services without any charge. I will be able to do something good for the industry. Like I said the tea industry has been doing well for me and my family for the last 25 years. Can I do something in return, that is my concern. I would be happy to do it.

Q: Please elaborate on the potential of Ceylon tea in terms of being a diversified branded variant other than being black or green tea?

A: Sri Lanka has the unique potential not only for the production of black tea but for a vast variety of other tea, which can be done in Sri Lanka. It can be in addition to black, orthodox, CTC, green tea, and white tea (silver tips) being done here. There are other teas with a big demand in the international market. They are Oolong tea, Puer tea, Gaba tea and compressed tea.

Whatever teas available in the world, in addition to black tea and green tea any tea can be produced in Sri Lanka and it will be of very high quality. When the quality is high the market will pay a high price for it, and they pay in hard currency Euros, Dollars. There is big potential to diversify and increase hard currency flow in Sri Lanka by developing other tea.

Sri Lanka was producing, in my estimation, about 10 per cent of the total production of tea, green tea, one hundred years ago. There are some records about this. I remember there are some books about it at the Tea Research Institute in Hanthana. Maybe they had it in their library in Thalawakale. I remember seeing it.

The country is producing high-quality tea. It has a very rich and strong character because of a high level of ultraviolet radiation.

This is my answer to everything about the quality of tea. But it will be justified not only by theoretical research and occasional tests. But if there was a series of detailed tests comparing teas of different origins, then we will know exactly what the situation is. That is basically the core of my proposal.

Ceylon tea leaves are brimming with healthy, potent antioxidants, and encompass the best natural flavours and aromas compared to other tea. Let’s say that on a firm footing after a comparative study with teas of another origin.

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