Ninety per cent of the world’s highest-quality cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka. Juliet Kinsman gets a lesson in how this deliciously fragrant spice is harvested and produced from Tri’s very own neighbours.
A fishing boat tour of Koggala Lake by sarong-wearing Douglas is a charming excursion in itself, but our cinnamon-obsessed outing would prove an even bigger treat for all the senses. Douglas kindly chaperoned us by dhoni across the lake, past fishermen, to another local industry care of a visit to a cinnamon planter at his home.
Sarath, the cinnamon farmer welcoming us off the boat up through some trees, past an impressive monitor lizard, to his small house in what felt like jungle. He gestured us to the family’s table and chairs just beyond where his wife was cradling a very happy-looking newborn baby. Here, with a glass of hot cinnamon tea, we learned how the fragrant sticks we buy in little jars in supermarkets back home are often hand made from the bark of a Sri Lankan tree by an experienced artisan just such as Sarath.
Cinnamon has been on sweet and savoury menus around the world since the Portuguese discovered this aromatic wild tree in Sri Lanka and it’s fascinating to get such a close-up view of how it’s processed by hand. Expertly, Sarath’s experienced hands demonstrated how the bark is carved off branches of the cinnamon tree. The stems are processed straight after harvesting while the inner bark is still wet – after the outer bark is masterfully scraped off, he tapped the wood with a hammer to loosen the inner bark – it would be this which would become the familiar spice. Since the exterior woody bark is a byproduct, this is what was used for the cladding of Tri’s constructions. It’s quite captivating to observe these curved sticks of raw cinnamon being peeled off and proficiently rolled into the more familiar brown quills.
We didn’t feel like tourists in a group expedition as we sat with our new Sinhala friend in his front yard and discovered from him how this time-tested tradition endures. It felt as though Douglas has taken us to meet his extended family who was only too happy to spill the secrets to a technique he had proudly mastered over a lifetime. And we were only too delighted to be able to spice up our lives by buying some aromatic Ceylon cinnamon oils and sticks from source to take home.
The Tri Cinnamon Experience (1.5 hours): a private dhoni boat on the lake takes you to visit a cinnamon island where a family live and produce cinnamon products. They demonstrate peeling and let guests touch and taste. (Cost US$25 per person.)