Is Sri Lanka turning into a coffee-drinking nation from traditional tea-drinking? Pundits in the industry and some state officials seem to think so. Hence a new campaign to promote tea locally with the setting up of a chain of tea shops to promote the local drinking habit.
One of the arguments being trotted out is that tea industry authorities are worried about the proliferation of coffee cafes and the increasing consumption of coffee at funeral houses.
Is this an accurate assessment of beverage consumption trends in Sri Lanka or is this a Colombo-centric view?
While coffee houses are essentially in Colombo and the suburbs and rarely frequently by the ‘working’ class, ‘Nescafe’ is also not the drink of choice in funeral houses in rural homes.
If so are the authorities getting their ‘knickers in a twist’ and using funds from a promotional levy that was originally intended for the promotion of Ceylon Tea overseas?
According to the latest 2012 data, Sri Lanka produced 326.3 million kg of tea last year of which 319.9 million (320 million) was exported with six million being consumed locally. Four years ago in 2008, tea production was 318.7 million kg while exports, curiously, was more at 319.6 million kg, according to Central Bank data. This proves that consumption has increased in recent years while exports have remained unchanged. How does one explain local consumption trends in the 2008 data which reveals that all that Sri Lanka produced was exported? Two reasons (though this is not the focus of today’s column); Export figures could include carry-forward contracts while a large quantity of rubbishy and good tea sold in the ‘unofficial market’ is not captured in the official data. Hence the discrepancy in statistics which could also mean Sri Lankans must be consuming more than the 6 million kg reported in 2012.
Furthermore in the past decade, the tea industry has been more innovative and local brands like Dilmah and Mlesna have thrived in local markets after initial focus on branding and sales abroad.(Sunday Times)