Behind a good cup of tea
Delve into Sri Lankan tea with the Claasz Collection
5 November 2014
A cup of tea is a cup of peace.
Soshitsu Sen XV
There's nothing more soothing than a good cup of tea. Green, black or flavoured, the ritual of measuring, brewing and pouring, for those who love using a teapot or infuser, and even the jiggling and steeping of the ubiquitous teabag, seems to have a gently calming effect. Yes, I'm a tea drinker, so I'll admit my bias!
The consumption of tea dates back thousands of years, probably originating in China and then spreading to other Asian countries and the Middle East. It started to appear in Europe in the 1600s. Whilst tea had its detractors, its popularity continued to spread.
Tea has played an important role in Australia’s social and economic history, a topic currently being researched by one of the Library’s Harold White fellows Dr Peter Griggs. Both in the cities and as a staple of the outback, tea was part of our lives. No stockman would be without a meal of tea and damper, and the train that was the lifeblood of supply in the far west was known as the "tea and sugar train". A beautiful children’s story book Tea and sugar Christmas about the special Christmas tea and sugar train has just been produced by Jane Jolley and Robert Ingpen, keeping those wonderful memories alive.
For more tea nostalgia, the Library holds some fascinating advertising material, jingles, posters and other ephemera.
In addition to Australian material, the Library is also home to a very interesting collection on the Sri Lankan tea industry, part of the Claasz collection.
The Claasz collection is what the Library terms a "formed collection". The Library has a number of these formed collections, which consist of items of significance acquired as a group from a particular person or organisation and located together in their own separate run. They may have a specific theme, or predominant subject focus, e.g. the Kashnor Collection of economic literature. Or concentrate on a geographic region, e.g. the Rex Nan Kivell Collection. Or they may reflect a wide-ranging interest of the collector(s) and gain their significance from the rarity of the content and as examples of personal libraries that span generations, e.g. the Clifford Collection.
The Claasz Collection was acquired from Manfred Claasz. The main collection was received in 1984, and there have been subsequent small additions to this. The Library also holds his personal papers. Manfred Hans Claasz was born in Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1942. From 1962-1972 he was employed by the Scottish Tea and Lands Company of Ceylon. He was a member of the Dutch Burgher Union of Ceylon. In April 1972 Claasz emigrated to Australia, living first in Sydney before moving to Canberra in 1975 and then working for various companies throughout Australia.
The Claasz collection comprises about 200 books and pamphlets, issues of 73 serial titles and 11 maps published in Sri Lanka or about Sri Lanka. While they include its history, politics, botany, fauna, national parks, ancient cities, paintings and other arts, perhaps the most significant component of this collection are the works about the Sri Lankan tea industry.
The Sri Lankan tea industry was established in 1867 following the virtual destruction of the existing coffee plantations due to a devastating fungal disease. The industry gradually grew with the aid of improvements in tea cultivation and processing technology, supported by the Tea Research Institute, which was formed in 1925.
The material in the Claasz collection provides an eclectic mix of technical publications about the growing of tea, promotional and popular works, material about the tea industry, and memoirs of tea planters. Many of the items are not held elsewhere in Australia.
Some of the personal stories provide a revealing insight into what life was like on the tea plantations, particularly in the pre-independence days. Two leaves and a bud : tales of a Ceylon tea planter, written under the pseudonym 'Kelavan' is a simply told tale of the author's experiences as a plantation manager from his arrival in 1935 to the late 1940s.
In contrast, Born to labour is a collection of anecdotal sketches of the everyday life of plantation labourers in the central hills of Sri Lanka by C. V. Velupillai, a trade unionist, poet and member of parliament. It shows aspects of the social life, and the hardships experienced by the tea workers.
There is also rather scathing report produced in the early 1970s by the Cambridge World Development Action Group called Tea : the colonial legacy. This is quite a contrast to the colourful, positive materials produced by the tea industry associations.
The collection also contains some interesting maps of Sri Lanka including a Diagram of the planting districts of Ceylon showing the principal estates from 1950 showing tea, rubber, coconut, cacao, cinnamon, cardamom and citronella plantations, roads, railways, hospitals, rest houses, post offices and police stations. This is a valuable resource for comparing past and present cultivation in the region.
However, perhaps my favourite Sri Lankan tea items are a series of annual reports from the mid-1960s to early 1970s produced by the Sri Lankan Tea Propaganda Board, and received by the Library from the Sri Lankan High Commission. While the Board's name sounds rather confronting, its role was to promote Sri Lankan tea throughout the world and compete with the Indian tea industry.
I was amazed by the breadth of their activities in countries ranging from Europe to Scandanavia, the Middle East, North America, Asia and Australasia, and the fascinating detail included in the reports. The 1966 report records the establishment of the 'Lion Campaign' in the UK to "use a stylised version of the Ceylon Lion as it appears on the national flag to distinguish Ceylon tea from all the other brands … and to stress the virtues of Ceylon tea over other varieties so that consumers will demand lion packs when buying their tea."
There are reports of school mailouts, education campaigns, fairs, exhibitions, "tea evenings, housewives meetings and samplings", an experimental iced tea campaign in 1968, press and radio advertising, and much, much more! Even a record of the total number of cups of tea served in the Lounge and Tea Bars of the Ceylon Tea Centres in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane. You can see here the figures for 1968, with the previous year’s totals in brackets:
Part of the amazing world behind your simple cup of tea!