From humble cups of coffee to unique works of art, the hand-crafted creations of skilled artisans offer a particularly gratifying kind of pleasure, and the knowledge and expertise which go into the process bring an extra quality to the end result. You don't often get the chance to observe the artisans as they bring their passions to life, but we’ve found a few experiences that give you a rare glimpse behind the scenes...
Half an hour’s drive from Galle, the Handunugoda Tea Estate is a family-run business with a commitment to producing top-quality tea. Everything is grown organically and sourced from a single 200 acre estate which, as well as traditional black tea, also produces the labour-intensive Virgin White Tea - one of the most expensive in the world. You will be shown every stage of authentic Sri Lankan tea production, from cultivation to the hand-picked harvest, the drying process and, naturally, how to brew a flawless cuppa. You’ll also learn about the plantation’s Tea Without Tears initiative, which ensures fair practices for their employees and feeds back into the community. Sitting on the terrace at the end of your tour, you’ll sample a selection of the estate’s teas, brewed to perfection by the experts, along with the mandatory afternoon accompaniment of cake. Bliss.
The bright colours and intricate patterns of batik are bold and distinctive, and women across Indonesia have used this technique for centuries to make exquisite dyed cloth. The designs are created using a resist technique, where patterns are drawn or printed onto the fabric using hot wax before it is dip-dyed, then the whole process is repeated with different colours. It does, of course, sound simpler than it is! The word batik is Javanese, and the region around Yogyakarta is especially renowned for the high quality of its designs. You can take part in a workshop while visiting Java, where you’ll learn the meticulous method of creating these beautiful fabrics. Over the course of an afternoon, you’ll discover the history of the process and the philosophy behind some of the patterns, as well as using traditional equipment to create your own batik memento.
Traditionally worn during the Mid-Autumn Festival lantern parades, Hanoi’s stylised paper masks have been a favourite of Vietnamese children for many decades. The art behind creating these masks has been the preserve of a few dedicated craftspeople who keep the authentic methods alive. However, some recent projects from arts collectives and universities have started to popularise the tradition for a new generation. During the mask workshop, you’ll meet artisans who have been practising this craft for over 30 years, and see examples of their own designs, before learning how to create a mask by pressing paper and glue into hand-made moulds. As they take a couple of days to dry in the sun, you’ll paint your design onto a mask which has already been dried. Our top tip is to wear clothes you don’t mind splashing a bit of paint or glue onto, as it can get quite messy!
The tea ceremony is one of Japan’s most revered traditions, and this experience in Uji (near Kyoto) gives you an insight into preparing the tea leaves before brewing, showing you the patience and skill required to create the high class products that the region is known for. The workshop begins with a masterclass in how to knead and hand-roll the tea leaves (a process which can take a patient artisan a couple of hours to complete!), followed by tutorials in bringing out the optimum taste, how to correctly prepare green tea, and the ritual of drinking the finished brew. The purity of flavour from the prepared leaves, along with the effort and care put into creating them, gives the resulting infusion a superior quality. There will be plenty of tea left to take away with you too, so you can recreate that sublime cuppa once again.
Given that it is possible to buy a bag of mass-produced salt for just a few pennies, it’s not surprising that we take it for granted. However, there was a time when salt was an extremely valuable commodity; it’s thought that Roman soldiers were paid a special salt allowance, which could be the root of the term ‘salary’. Even today, there is a definite salt hierarchy, with every chef having their particular favourite that they swear by, and artisan-produced sea salts are often at the top of the list. The solar processing plant in Bali uses centuries-old methods to produce traditional salts (including the distinctive, pyramid-shaped crystal variety) from seawater. They have added a few new twists to the traditions too, such as salts flavoured with lime and chilli, and the increasingly-trendy black salt. Take a tour of the facility, chat with the artisans and taste the precious ‘sea gold’ for yourself.
Coffee is definitely having a modern renaissance, with new artisan coffee shops springing up weekly in major cities and an ever-growing number of caffeine devotees. Indonesia has been growing coffee for centuries, and Ubud’s artisans know a thing or two about making the very best percolations. There are several coffee workshops to choose from, depending on whether you’re hoping to be the best barista, become a connoisseur of coffee quality or just extract a decent espresso. Not everything replicates traditional methods – research and advances in technology have brought coffee production forward in leaps and bounds, and creating the premium blends is a serious science. The Head Roaster will show you the latest equipment for roasting the beans to preserve their flavour, and help you brew up your ideal cup of joe. Once you’ve had coffee this good, there’s no going back.
If adding new expertise to your skillset sounds like your kind of souvenir, have a chat with our Destination Specialists about including a workshop or tour in your itinerary. It might just start you off on a new leisure-time obsession...