T IS FOR TOURISM © Duncan Graham 2006
If you are cold, tea will warm you.
If you are too heated, tea will cool you.
If you are depressed, it will cheer you.
If you are excited it will calm you.
That endorsement reads like a TV commercial jingle, but it has far more credibility. It was written by British prime minister W E Gladstone 140 years ago and the message seems to have held up despite the jerky rhythm.
State owned enterprises don’t have a good name for efficiency or productivity anywhere. And when the business is hospitality it would be reasonable to expect surly service and indifferent care.
So this column is happy to report that assumptions are no guide to practice, at least in the case of the Wonosari Tea Plantation and agro-tourism project.
More than 600 hectares of forest was cleared and planted with tea bushes on the slopes of Mount Arjuno about 30 kilometres northwest of Malang in East Java. That was early last century, and a few of the original trees are still alive.
During first president Sukarno’s purge of the Dutch in the 1950s the plantation was one of the many foreign businesses confiscated and nationalised. Now it has the unlovely name of PTP Nusantara X11, which certainly doesn’t carry a memorable ring.
Conscious of this the nimble-minded staff have named their retail products Rolas (Javanese for 12) thereby preserving the bureaucrats’ sense of importance while creating a marketable brand.
Apart from the over-staffing there are few reminders that this is a government business, though it wasn’t always like that. A few years ago the place looked unloved. It had notices forbidding photographs in the factory, apparently because it was feared spies would copy the technology.
As some of the equipment was installed by the Dutch in 1910 and is still in use the prohibition might indicate that industrial espionage was a hollow excuse. A more likely reason was public servants’ love of saying DO NOT rather than WELCOME.
Now the signs are cheerful and positive, the place looks well maintained and bright, even though when The Jakarta Post visited there’d been no rain for five months and water supplies were low.
“We have a new management team in place with a vision,” said Willy Franciscus, the plantation’s deputy manager. Although trained as a social scientist he’d previously worked as a tea taster before becoming an administrator.
“We want to create a proper museum illustrating the history of tea. We have such a long history here and I’m afraid we could lose it.
“A major problem is lack of water, largely caused by forest felling on the hills above. Now we’re planting 150,000 shade trees. We also want to make the place more interesting for guests.”
Everyone to their own taste, but for this visitor Wonosari is already packed with constructive and recreational activities. On the fun side there’s a big warm-water pool, mini zoo, playground, tennis courts and many other pastimes. For those who hate being out of the city there’s a karaoke lounge.
Educationally it’s one big schoolroom, minus the whiteboard and pedant. You can walk around the plantation or be driven in an open carriage rubber-tyred train.
Puji Iskandar who has worked at the plantation for around 20 years heads the tourist part of the enterprise.
“Most Indonesians are happy just to look around, but foreigners always want to ask questions,” he said. “We have educational tours of the factory and explain the process. People can see tea bags being filled and the packaging system.”
After the shiny green leaves have been picked they’re taken to ‘withering boxes’ in the factory to be partly dried by hot air. Dry season production is about three tonnes of leaf a day – much higher during the Wet.
The leaves are then chopped and fermented before sorting and further drying.
The old equipment from the Dutch era takes longer to process the tea, but the product tastes better, said Puji. About 95 per cent of the tea is exported in bulk and often blended with other leaves. Lipton is the main buyer. The locally sold tea has a touch of vanilla added for taste.
Up to 8,000 people visit at weekends, with many staying overnight in cottages or hotel-style rooms. More accommodation is needed.
If you don’t like crowds go during the week when you’ll be sharing with a few business groups and school parties. You’ll also get a 20 per cent discount. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy the Javanese countryside, feel the cool and watch thousands of swiftlets darting across the tea bushes feeding on insects.
The tea trees may have displaced teak, but the birds are benefiting. And so can you.
(Wonosari is six kilometres west of the Surabaya-Malang road. Turn at Lawang, 30 kilometres north of Malang. Phone 0341 426032.)
A NICE CUPPA CHA
There have been some wonderful inventions in the history of the world. In the top ranks would have to be the S-bend toilet, hot showers, sliced bread – and tea bags.
But who discovered the tea that goes in the bags? There are tens of thousands of different trees on the planet. Did our ancestors go through them one-by-one, dunking the leaves in hot water, and then risking a sip?
It would have been a painstaking and painful process – sometimes fatal. Not all plants are benign. Better to settle for the myths. You have three choices – Chinese, Japanese or Indian.
All have male sages magically or fortuitously encountering the beneficial effects of Camellia sinensis. These yarns should not be taken seriously. How many men ever get involved in tea making? Around the world it’s usually women’s business.
After 5,000 years of tea drinking in China where the tree is a native the idea caught on in the West.
It wasn’t till the 17th century that tea arrived in Europe, but it didn’t become a great success for another century. It was expensive and considered a drink for aristocrats who were supposed to need its medicinal properties.
The British broke the Chinese monopoly by growing tea in India where the tree also grows naturally, and the Dutch followed in Indonesia.
The extra supply created a market among working class people. Tea drinking became part of the English meet-and-greet culture, with all its elaborate rituals of pot warming and brewing, and which serve as conversation starters.
In countries influenced by Britain tea is usually taken with milk (‘white tea’). In Indonesia it’s normally drunk weak and black, usually with heavy doses of sugar, hot or cold.
Cha? That’s English slang for tea and comes from the Mandarin word. Another synonym is ‘China’. Is there a word for coffee? Indeed – ‘Java’.
And the tea bag? That’s supposed to have come about when an American shipper put samples in small silk bags for his buyers and the idea developed. Clearly it suited us down to a T.
(First published in The Jakarta Post 5 January 2007)