Feb 22, 2009


Boh tea may be a household brand but its history remains unknown to many. Talk to 75-year-old Tristan Beauchamp Russell, the man who inherited the country’s biggest tea grower, however, and Boh’s history comes alive. 

During the early pre-independence period, the sight of armed men atop fortified vehicles making their way up to Cameron Highlands was commonplace. 

According to Tristan Beauchamp Russell, chairman of Boh Plantations Sdn Bhd, you saw this all the time during pre-independence days. 

Back then, the only access to the newly discovered highlands was via the treacherous one-lane trunk road which was riddled with potholes and often overgrown. Workers could be seen plying the road from Tapah to the tea estates where they worked every day, panting and braving their way up some 35km. 

A new place to hang out: The new Sungai Palas Tea Centre.

A new place to hang out: The new Sungai Palas Tea Centre.

Life was a struggle in the aftermath of the Japanese Occupation and the onset of the Communist Insurgency. 

“At the time, it was necessary for us to travel in an armoured convoy. In fact, I still have a licence to drive a five-ton armoured car,” recalled Russell, owner of the country’s largest tea grower. 

The 75-year-old who inherited Boh’s 1,200ha estate was speaking to invited guests during the recent opening of the Boh Tea Centre at Sungai Palas. The passion for the business was still evident in Russell’s thin, lilting voice. 

He spoke of the Great Depression of the 1920s when his father John Archibald Russell first acquired a 1,600ha concession land to plant tea in the highlands, and how the land has survived the Occupation and the Insurgency, and ending up in his and his daughter Catherine’s able hands. 

A souvenir shop.
A souvenir shop.

Catherine is the current chief executive officer of the plantation. 

Guests at the opening, comprising both local and foreign VIPs in the tea business, had their eyes glued to the jovial figure standing on the podium before them, enthralled by his anecdotes. 

Russell gestured to the manicured tea bushes that speckled the landscape below the teahouse and said in a proud voice: “Now, our plantation in Cameron Highlands has become a major tourist destination both for Malaysian and foreign tourists.” 

Watch tea-pickers down below. — Lew Yong Kan/The Star

The plantation, which has four tea gardens in the country – Boh, Sungai Palas, Fairlie (in Cameron Highlands) and Bukit Cheeding (Selangor) – produces over four million kilogrammes of tea annually, an equivalent of 5.5 million cups of tea. 

It was this success, said Russell, that led to the construction of the new teahouse in Sungai Palas some two years ago. The RM3mil teahouse, with its stylish and contemporary architecture, seats 120 patrons and is commonly listed as a must-see on the itineraries of tourists visiting the highlands. 

According to the teahouse manager, Hashim Mohd Hassan, as many as 3,000 people visit the place in a day during the peak seasons, particularly on weekends. 

“We chose this Sungai Palas estate because of the beauty of the tea garden and because of its convenient location, close to the town centre,” said Russell. 

Visitors to the teahouse, he said, would not only get a bird’s eye view of the rolling mountains studded with tea bushes but could also learn about the tea-making process at the centre’s exhibition area and video room. 

“Here, people can learn about Boh and its people, and the rich ecology of Cameron Highlands. And here, too, they can see how these gardens have remained oases of beauty all these long years,” said Russell. 

The new Boh Tea Centre, located near Gunung Brinchang in Cameron Highlands, indeed offers visitors a breathtaking view of Boh’s beautiful Sungai Palas estate. And Russell’s tale of hardship endured in the early days only served to enhance the already grand experience of the plantation. -- The Star. Lifestyle Focus.