Tea Plantations in Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lankan Hill Country

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Nuwara Eliya - Tea Plantations

Tea pickers at the tea plantations in Nuwara Elyia Sri LankaThe drive up to Nuwara Eliya is a long and, as always a bumpy one. We make our way out of Kandy and back into the countryside. This is different scenario. Instead of the never-ending jungle and paddy fields we start to climb, passing hills, rocky outcrops and spectacular waterfalls. Many of these waterfalls have people, standing at the base, washing either themselves or their clothes. The waterfalls themselves are spectacular, falling many hundreds of feet and normally splashing down just shot of the road and continuing their fall on the other side. We also start to see a new plant that we’ve not seen lower down. To begin with it looks like a vine in a well kept vineyard but this is actually tea!

The hills get higher and higher and we start to get a feeling of mountainside travel with the van twisting and turning. Lisa is concerned for Tom as he’s not a great traveller and this sort of journey is classic for making him sick. However it appears that a DS is better for keeping the travel sickness at bay than a travel sickness pill and we make good progress.

Soon we find ourselves at a large factory with a visitors area and even a children’s playground. This is a tea factory and Chris pulls in and asks us if we’d like a tour. This is not strictly on the itinerary but is fantastic. We pull in and get out of the van. The surrounding area is filled with tea plants but this is not like the fields of any UK crop. The tea plants are not in flat fields but rise steadily, in immaculate lines up the hills, reaching high up to the mountain tips. It’s a pretty incredible sight.

Chris goes into a large vistors area and comes back with an elegant looking young Sri Lankan lady in a simple sari. As with everyone we’ve met her Engish is good but on this occasion, Chris is “allowed” to accompany us on the tour (it seems that there is a law on job security that provides for local guides to be assured of taking tourists around but as this is a private facility, no such safeguards are allowed as otherwise we’d just not be allowed in). The tour itself is free and as with the other places we’ve been it seems that buying something at the end is going to be their reward. However we can easily see ourselves buying some tea so we follow the tour (which is only us!) around the factory.

Making Ceylon Tea

Tea making is somewhat more complicated that I had thought and to my amazement there are very many different types of tea. I’m not talking here about Darjeeling or Assam (which are places) but of grades of tea. Our guide tells us that there is White Tea (not to be confused with milkly tea!) which is extremely good for you and also the most expensive type of tea in the world, green tea and then grades of normal tea – OP (Orange Pekoe), BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe), FOP (Flowery Orange Pekoe) and several others. I distinctly remember that the last category was called “Dust” which made me see cheap teas in the UK in a different light! These different grades of tea are determined generally by which part of the tea leaf or tip is used but the quality of the tea is also to do with where it is grown (country of origin but also where in the country – similar to vineyards for wine).

Tea leaves cut and being dried before the tea manufacturing process startsThe process itself is really interesting in many ways very obvious although I’ve never really thought about it before. The tea after picking it goes through four basic processes. Withering which is a kind of warming of the leaves to remove some of the moisture, Rolling which is pretty obvious but helps to breakdown the leaf letting it produce the enzymes for the next part of the process – fermentation! I hadn’t realised that tea was alcoholic but a small amount of fermentation is part of the process followed by firing which drives the tea which can then sorted into grades and packed.

You may be fully aware of why green tea is different from black tea and I now realise I was pretty stupid not to realise it but basically it doesn’t go through some to the firing process so is more “organic” in nature by the time it is packed up!

Tasting Ceylon Tea

After the tour we go over to the visitor centre and are treated to tea and cakes (Madera cake really does go well with tea!). This is where we get our first taste of White Tea. I have always thought that I’d like to have green tea but never really liked the leafy taste. However our guide explains that White Tea is actually just as healthy as Green Tea but nor as leafy – she’s right. Not only do I love it, so does Callum. In fact when he asks for another, he says “could I have a white tea” and is then indignant when I try and clarify with the guide that he probably means milky team. He doesn’t, “stop interfering Dad” (fair enough on this occasion).

We obviously buy some tea (I hope Chris makes some commission out of all these purchases!) – a box of white tea and a box of green. I am given to understand that Gold Tips are the best, followed by Silver Tips – so I buy the best which seem fantastic value although when we open the ornate box there is not really much tea inside! Ah well it is the most expensive in the world!