So here is a question for you: what two things do the island of Mauritius and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland have in common?
Answer: the dodo, and tea!
But, unlike the dodo, the commercial cultivation of tea and its local consumption has flourished over the centuries since it first came to the island in 1760, nearly a hundred years after the dodo became extinct.
I must admit to having never knowingly drunk Mauritian produced tea until a recent stay on the island with friends, when I discovered a real liking for the black tea from the Bois Chéri plantation. As someone who drinks tea without milk or any other accompaniment, I generally prefer it quite weak (just show the cup the tea bag!) – strong black tea is rather unpleasant for my palate. But my morning cuppa of Bois Chéri’s Natural Black Tea was always mellow, delicate and delightful, whatever its strength. I would drink it over a cup of English Breakfast tea any day.
If you are fortunate enough to visit Mauritius, don’t miss a trip to the Bois Chéri tea plantation. Our host on Mauritius is a good friend of the tea factory’s manager, Yannick Lenferna, who generously organised a tour of the factory and museum – and a tasting at their wonderfully situated restaurant – when we arrived late afternoon, with production finished for the day. I’ve been to tea plantations before, notably in Sri Lanka and Kerala, but certainly learnt more from our engaging guide around this factory and its informative museum of tea than on any of my previous plantation tours.
Situated in the south east of the island, the Bois Chéri estate was founded in 1892 and is the biggest tea producer in Mauritius. The factory turns forty tonnes of tea leaves into ten tonnes of tea per day. Go on a weekday or Saturday morning when production at the factory is in full swing and you can witness the whole production from drying to packaging – I found this latter stage a mesmerising part of the process in itself. Much of the machinery is old and basic but it works to perfection, so why replace it!
After the factory tour, we spent some time in the adjoining tea production museum, learning about the history of tea, the different types and how we drink it. When first introduced to the UK, tea was considered medicinal – Samuel Pepys apparently didn’t much like it but drank it on medical advice. One fascinating fact we picked up from the museum was that these medicinal properties influenced the naming of some famous British brands of tea: PG, as in PG Tips, apparently stands for “pre-digestive”, while Typhoo comes from the Chinese word for “doctor”.
Then it was back to the car for a drive through the lush estate to the plantation’s restaurant, a pavilion situated on a hill top from where you can drink in the fabulous panorama of the palm surrounded lake below and views of the south coast of the island. We didn’t have time for a meal there, though our host spoke highly of his experience of the restaurant. Like most other visitors to the factory, though, we did enjoy a tea tasting, with different flavoured teas produced by the estate – from caramel, to coconut-vanilla to cardamom, bergamot (Earl Grey to you and me), lemon, and exotic fruits, to name but a few, though for me nothing bettered their Natural Black Tea. As you would expect, there is a shop where you can buy the tea and here, on the recommendation of our host, we bought a couple of jars of their delicious Tea Chutney, a type of tapenade made from tamarind, garlic, coriander, soya bean oil, mint, seasoning and, of course, tea.
To go with your tea, try a biscuit from the famous Biscuiterie H Rault biscuit factory near Mahébourg in the south of Mauritius. Made of manioc and cooked over burning sugarcane leaves, the biscuits may seem a little dry, so some prefer them buttered. The family run factory has been producing them since 1870 and you can witness the process on a guided tour, followed by a tasting of the biscuits in different flavours.
If Mauritius is a bit too far for you to go to buy your tea, helpfully, and rather more economically, you can buy Bois Chéri teas and other Mauritian foods from Mauritian Foods Online.
Bois Chéri Tea Factory and Tea Museum, Bois Chéri Road, Bois Chéri, Mauritius