Anselm Perera

Mlesna (Ceylon)

A ‘tea shop’ evokes images of dusty shelves, floors stocked with packages, little tables and short seats, a steaming brew served in often chipped and stained cups. A ‘tea gift shop’ didn’t exist until Anselm Perera brought his conceptualisation to the marketplace.

In 1965, for the first time, Sri Lanka’s tea exports were the world’s largest; and in 1966, the first International Tea Convention was held to commemorate 100 years of the tea industry in Sri Lanka.

A young man aspiring to a career in engineering had missed selection to university by a few marks. Considering options open to him, he applied for a position at Brooke Bond. There was competition from 73 applicants and five interviews to face. Perera was soon employed as a trainee tea taster at Brooke Bond and that first step, in 1969, would make all the difference to so much of the industry for the nation.

By 1983, he was ready to move out on his own and used the mirror image of his name, Anselm, for the venture. His first blend was Rich Brew and its name has proved a harbinger of Perera’s rich contribution to the tapestry of tea.

Establishing a new brand and product to the market was not without its challenges at the time. There were no supermarkets, retailers demanded costly promotional materials (there was no electronic or social media, of course) and a ‘premium blend’ of tea was barely contemplated, and thought to be overly expensive.

In 1985, when he was ready to set up a fine gourmet upmarket tea shop, Perera was tardy in securing a space in the island’s first shopping mall. But the generosity of a friend made space available, and Perera and his team designed and decorated his dream store – the best designed shop in Liberty Plaza at the time.

And so tea as a fine quality commodity and beautifully packaged gift was introduced to Sri Lankan consumers for the first time. Tea in an abundance of flavours and attractive packaging, and accessories for tea service made the Mlesna shop a veritable Aladdin’s cave.

Perera’s iconic giftware and superior tea have, for over three decades, carried a cachet of class and discernment – and prevailed, despite many attempts by competitors to emulate and grab his market share. He was the first and is arguably the best.

Anselm Perera: brought new dimensions to the evocation of a ‘tea shop.’