Behind the success of Halpé tea is a story of determination, passion and true dedication to the art of tea.
I’m the youngest in the abeyrathne family – the originators of largest tea empire in the Uva district of Sri Lanka, allow me to share with you the journey of Halpé tea from its humble inception to its present-day success as a trusted brand of tea to the credit of global acclaim.
The humble tea factory where it all began is located in a serene hamlet named “Halpé ” nestled amidst the mountain peaks of the Uva region of Sri Lanka. Halpé has been home to my family, grandparents, as well as ancestors, thus our origins and life have been always deeply rooted in the picturesque village.
Uva Halpé watte Tea factory was the modest tea processing plant that gave birth to our signature Halpé tea, which is globally renowned brand today. ‘Halpé watte’ stands for ‘plantation situated in Halpé ’ , while Uva represents the region in the country to which it belongs. Our signature Halpé Tea therefore hails from the humble beginnings of the Uva Halpé watte Tea factory that used to be a minuscule operation started with basic apparatus.
It was in the early 1960 that my farther dropped out from school to assist my grandfather at the tiny boutique shop in the Halpé village, so that he could provide enough to educated the rest of his eight siblings
My father was a determined young boy. He worked with my grandfather for several years gathering business knowledge through the day to day transactions at the boutique shop, as he grew into a young adult, he realized that the income from the boutique shop is not enough to support the family.
Therefore, having identified an opportunity to provide firewood to a tea factory in the village, he boldly set out in search of partners that could cater to the need. Having found such partners, He was able to secure this as a part time occupation for several months, until he saved up enough money to hire a new person that could help replace his postion at my grandfather’s boutique shop . He then continued to work as a firewood supplier to the tea factory full time.
This paved the way to my father to make forays into the Ceylon Tea Industry , As a humble firewood supplier to the manufacturing process of tea.
Years of hard work and dedication followed until my father was able to afford his first tractor to support his firewood supplying enterprise. This tractor expanded the scope of my father’s work by providing an opportunity to supply firewood to several tea factories beyond the village boarder as well. After one year he was able to buy his first firewood lorry, to much of his delight even now he dearly reminisces . Eventually he became the largest supplier of firewood in the area providing to more than five factories in the region.
The tea factory was one of the main livelihoods of the villagers that provided several benefits – encouraging people to cultivate green tea leaves on bare hands to supply to the factory, generating employment, improving living standards and even developing the retails shops in the area , hence my father’ s contribution stood out as a highlight in the village.
However, the village tea factory closed down as the owners was unable to continue operations due to personal commitments . With the factory been closed down, the green tea supplies stopped cultivation, people lost jobs, shops closed down etc. Making a huge negative impact on the village’s life styles
People were devasted on this lost and most of them tried to persuade my father to buy the tea factory . However, he did not have enough money to buy the tea factory, all of his wealth including my mother’s entire savings accounted only to 1/3 of the price of the abundant tea factory
My father was a family man and to him the wellbeing of the family was priority . He therefore consulted my mother about the decision. They both knew they would be taking huge risk with their hard-earned money by spending it on the tea factory , but they also had the will power and the determination to give it a try , they were looking for partners who were willing to start the tea factory but everyone was hesitant , believing it be a dead end. The band disagreed to provide a loan without guarantors and my father was on the verge of giving up, until he was finally able to speak to the owner into agreeing to mortgage the factory and the land to the bank and provide the remaining cash needed to fund the purchase . He then ventured into starting operations at the run-down tea factory. Courageously taking the risk of losing everything he had worked for in life.
My mother being a school teacher worked so hard providing the best support she could thought her life to help my father become successful she used to return from school and go straight to the tea factory to weight and accept green leafs from suppliers while my father does the role of factory officer . both worked until late night and we saw so little of them.
Thus, rigorous toiling continued for years until things started to gradually get better at the factory
On 10 January 1995 soon after starting operations, my parents had to set out into the village going from house to house searching for people to supply green leaf to the factory, they managed to find only 20 suppliers.
by the end of the month. Most people disagreed to supply green leaf as they didn’t have faith in my parents, fearing that the closed down factory would not meet their income requirements.
However, my parents boldly preserved . By the end of the year they managed to convinced about suppliers, by even with that at the end of the first year, they were still struggling to cover the costs and repay the bank loan. Business was plummeting and they were in great need for support or a partnership . but were turned down by the many they approached.
This is when my mother came up with the idea of making local sales. She ventured into it on her own , spending long nights making small tea packs to be distributed to the local shops in the area . This proved to be more profitable than attempting to get good price at the tea export auctions held in Colombo.
The factory fresh high-quality tea leaves soon became the fast-moving favorite around the area . The local sales gave the much-needed substance to the factory to survive in the short term and settle debtors . This also marked the birth of our signature brand “Halpé Tea” which is the short name derived from the Halpéwatte tea factory.
My mother was exemplary of thrifty Sri Lankan wife and made it a point to make small saving every month from the factory.
So that the end of each year they were able to replace old machine with a new one gradually improving the standards of tea products step by step.
By 1997, my parents replaced the old worn out dryer for a used running condition dryer , after sometimes they also managed to replace machine by machine and move towards achieving greater quality of manufacturing process of teas.
By 1998 they were able to purchase a color separator machine that enabled for color sorting of teas in the manufacturing process . This was a significant achievement for the factory as it was the first of its kind in Sri Lanka.
This machine undertakes the process of picking out stolkes (removal of the brownish small particles that reduce the quality of the teas ) before the machine was installed the stalks were manually hand picked out of the teas.
The tedious process that took several nights was cut down to just a several minutes with the purchase of the machine , making the significant change in the production process.
This was the first color separator to come in to the whole province and my father rented out the machine during night hours to other tea factories which helped him to earn extra cash to replace the other worn out machines in the factory.
With years of hard work, commitment and dedication by 2002 my father purchased his second tea factory tea factory in Galle producing low elevation teas catering different export market segment.
Uva Halpéwatte Factory, A family business at heart continues to enrich the lives of many while contributing to the economy of Sri Lanka, while producing the finest and freshest of tea hailing from Ceylon.