Munnar, India. The little (Kannan Devan Plantation Company Private Limited) Tea Museum fits perfectly into the category of Commercial Visitor Center. It's informative, and interesting, but with the goals of glorifying/propagandizing the company and enhancing product sales, in this case tea. These motives are obvious at Commercial Visitor centers. We expect to get a crafted narrative that "advertises" the content. It's even part of the fun, sometimes. Just being out in the tea plantations, for instance, is an exciting reason to be here. When we think of it as an informative personalized store experience, it seems innocent, because we know it. But in museums in general, intentions are often a murky gray area, hard to navigate. When is a museum offering something for you to interpret freely, with no agenda, and when is a museum selling products and ideas? Who are the exhibition sponsors, and what are the hidden agendas?
At the little Tea Museum, the experience is controlled right from the entry.
Watch out. The guards are serious and stern.
Right away we are directed past some quirky historical displays, without permission to stop and look at them, and forced into a half hour documentary screening room. The video is full of really interesting regional history, but in the end, the high quality of life of the plantation workers is suspiciously glorified.
After the documentary we are forced past more displays and up a little stairway for a "Tea Briefing". This is presented by a charasmatic and knowledgable man, who is thoroughly engaging, and passionate about the many physical and mental health benefits of drinking green tea. His enthusiasm is infectious. We feel charmed, and inspired to become green tea drinkers. Amused, a subtle sense of humor and camaraderie forms in our group.
Then we are led back down a little stairway to the small factory area, where we can see a few machines in action, which leads inevitably to the Tea Shop at the end.
At the Tea Shop we feel obligated to buy a cup of tea, of course. To finalize our bonding as a group, and to get closure on the experience. We carefully steep our tea bags as instructed.
The product shop, wrapped around the dead end location of the tea shop, does a brisk business
Finally, we are set free, to retrace our steps out the side of the building and around to the front entry again, if we want to actually look at the appealing and random historical display rooms.
Bonus! Visitors can get a customized mug with their photo on it