Tea: An Everyday Ritual Steeped In History And Politics

A million pounds of tea leaves can make about 70 million cups of tea. A Columbus business owner used to process this amount yearly in his Sri Lankan facility.

Tea

Photo: James Gray

Tea

Laliath “Guy” Paranavitana is originally from Sri Lanka, a small island-country just off the southern coast of India. Now, Guy runs Empire Tea Services in Columbus, Indiana.

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From Being A Tea Planter To Running A Tea Warehouse

A tea planter is someone who manages tea estates and factories. As a child, it was Guy’s dream to have this job. His cousin was a tea planter. Guy would visit his cousin’s bungalow on family vacations, and he fell in love with the glamour of the job.

Guy says, “What I did not see him do is the hard work because he was to come home and entertain us, and I thought [running a tea estate] was just a fun thing to do.”

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When Guy was old enough, he became a tea planter, and he lived the glamorous lifestyle that came with it.

20 years into his dream career, Guy started to feel unsafe. He left in 1989.

Political Conflict

In the late 80′s, communist revolutionary groups were resorting to violent means to shut down private enterprise in the country.  Their actions went far beyond strikes and protests.

One night some revolutionaries came looking for Guy. He was not home that night, but he knew it was not safe for him to stay in Sri Lanka.

Guy had been a guest of Rotary International in Columbus, Indiana, and he had friends there. When his friends from Columbus found out he was in danger, they told him to come to the U.S. quickly That’s why his tea warehouse is in south central Indiana. He recognized that this was his chance to leave a dangerous situation, and he opened up shop here.

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Having Tea With Guy

Guy has a large variety of tea blends. One has a flavor like lemon meringue. As I taste the teas with Guy, I kept searching for a word that would capture the flavor. I kept coming back to the same words. The tea tasted pure. Floral.

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We stood beside the tea. The sun left colorful shadows on the table. Different shades of greens and yellows spread across the table as light came through the glass. We watched the leaves open. Guy had placed little balls of jasmine leaves called jasmine pearls into the hot water, and we watched them unfold into long tendrils.

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James Gray

James Gray is a Bloomington native. After graduating from Bloomington High School South, he attended Butler University and received his degree in English Literature and Digital Media Production. While in Indianapolis, James worked at WFYI Public Media and with Know No Stranger, which is a collective of artists that create and perform community projects through live performance, video, illustration, and community event planning. He is excited to have the opportunity to continue his public media career in his hometown.

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