Mauritius and the story of tea
Tea can hardly be called a trend – after all, it’s been grown, picked, traded and sipped for centuries. But for the last few decades – in the West at least – tea has continually played second fiddle to coffee in the realm of hot drink worship, receiving nowhere near the level of esteem and adoration as the beloved bean. So as it becomes clear that big brand coffee chains are starting to re-focus their attention on the humble tea leaf – with some already opening specialist tea bars – you can be sure they’ve been keeping their ears to the ground. Because tea is back, in a big way, and it’s emerging from the teapot into juices, cocktails and the kitchens of innovative chefs – in ways more audacious than ever before.
The Tea Route
Of course, Mauritians’ passion for tea has never waned, and as a visitor you can explore this fervour by following the Tea Route at the Bois Cheri tea plantation – a culinary and cultural journey into the history of tea production in Mauritius.
Under the name of the Bois Cheri Company, the first large-scale Mauritian tea plantation was established at the end of the 19th century by Messrs Bour and Le Breton, and the 250 hectares of land now produce up to 700 tonnes of tea every year, 25% of which is reserved for export.
Domaine des Aubineaux
It all begins in Forest Side, a little way south of Curepipe, where the town gives way to a more rustic area. Here lies Domaine des Aubineaux and its gardens, a handsome colonial house-turned-museum filled with antiques, paintings, vintage photographs and furniture from the East India Company.
Just beyond, and surrounded by aromatic camphor trees, a former stable houses a distillery where essential oils are extracted in an old still to this day. To experience how this process translates to modern day varieties, take an English-style tea break at the old pool room. A wide range of infusions are offered: flavoured black tea (plain, mint, coconut, bergamot, earl grey, lemon or vanilla), herbal teas (with ayapana, lemongrass or ginger) and green teas - plain or with jasmine.
Bois Cheri factory and restaurant
All products are manufactured at the Bois Cheri factory itself. You’ll pass by an old locomotive’s steam engine once used to dry out tea leaves, while guides explain the various different stages of production, from harvest and fermentation to drying, sieving and packaging. And you cannot travel through Bois Cheri without stopping to admire the panoramic views from the chalet.
Grab a few minutes on its wooden terrace – cup of tea in hand – and gaze down on an ancient volcanic crater now transformed into a small lake, surrounded by century-old trees and shrubs.
For 21st century-style culinary innovation however, you’ll need to take a table at the Bois Cheri restaurant. This is the only place where you can enjoy a most unusual tea chutney – a blend of black tea with coriander, mint, olive oil and grated coconut, served on canapés.
Or opt for one of the young chef’s more revolutionary creations, like the black tea tiger prawns; a delectable bisque made with tea, finely chopped onions, butter and parsley, all simmered in fresh cream and drizzled over perfectly grilled prawns.
It’s the perfect place to witness this resurgent love of tea in action.