D68 Sri Lanka - KandySeptember 10, 2019 in Sri Lanka ⋅ ☁️ 23 °C
We inquired about a driver for a day, and before we knew it we had a little guy called Vilmer (?) cruising us around in the Royal Classic hotel’s Suzuki - complete with a giant sticker on the front window stating ‘Royal service’.
Vilmer was here nice and early, waiting for us after our sumptuous breakfast of chapatti and curry (amongst many other delicacies that make up the buffet). We set off for the Ceylon Tea Museum on the outskirts of Kandy.
The museum was a real treat, set within an old 5-story tea factory. It housed many large tea processing machines, all originating from the United Kingdom from as early as the 1800s when the tea industry was inaugurated in Ceylon. We were provided a brief guided tour, moving up each level of the factory and passing many interesting artefacts; machinery, photos, tea pots, agricultural testing machines, a mini museum dedicated to James Taylor, and the oldest package of tea from the 1940s in Ceylon. On arrival to the top level, we exchanged the tear off part of our ticket for a cup of the best BOPF grade tea. We had learnt on one of the lower levels about the tea grades, how they differ in taste and in price!
Tea in my mind in a very simple commodity - One tea plant species (Camellia sinensis), with many styles developed as the outcome of minute differences in processing. The styles are therefore different types of grading - open leaf, rolled leaf, older leaves, young tips, chopped or unchopped (or “broken”) to name just a few. Every combination producing its own name and subsequent acronym, for example;
- BOPF - broken orange pekoe fanning; a popular and tasty style the result of chopping the dry leaves into smaller fragments thus producing a stronger brew (smaller pieces, larger surface area, greater taste),
- OP - orange pekoe; predominantly large curled leaf unchopped producing a subtle tasting tea.
- GT - gold tip; the most expensive tea derived from fresh green tips yielding a subtle taste and very light yellow in colour.
After our cup of BOPF, we began the slow crawl along the curvy, bumpy roads, climbing high up into the mountainous tea country. The roads are narrow, low quality and feature the occasional roaming stray dog. After a slow hour and a half drive, maxing out at about 50km/h, we passed the sign stating that the tea plantation surrounding us was in fact Loolecondera Estate. This estate is the oldest in the country and the legacy of James Taylor, a Scotsman known as the ‘Father of Tea’ in Sri Lanka. James Taylor arrived as a 17 year old to Ceylon, settling down in Loolecondera Estate. In 1866, he travelled to India to learn more about tea where he returned with samples of Assam tea. In 1867 the first 19 acres were planted, and just two years later at the peak of the coffee industry’s production, coffee blight plagued the industry providing a rise of opportunity for Taylor and Loolecondera Estate.
Our first stop was to the large tea factory, which is government owned and processes the tea picked from the estate. This tea is then sold in bulk to auction houses across the globe where manufacturers then package and brand the tea for the consumer.
Inside the factory, it was dark, dusty and archaic. Forget occupational health and safety - the lungs of the ladies working were fertilised like the tea gardens themselves, by the fine dust and residue waste produced as a result of fine quality Ceylon tea production.
Our journey continued along very steep and narrow ‘roads’ up and into the tea plantations sitting at the base of overhanging mountains, some 4100 feet above sea level. The crunch of gravel and the occasional loss of traction had me clambering for a need of control and it was slightly nerve wracking heading up the road in a car with extremely low clearance. Vilmer never winced, employing patience with every inch travelled. It was slow going, but worth it once we arrived to the top where James Taylor’s granite seat is located, overlooking the valley below. This spot he would sit in and plan the expansion of the plantation across the valley.
We spent the following hour or so wandering around the tea plantation. We witnessed the strength agility of the all female tea plucking crew. They walked faster down the roads than their motorised counterparts (a tuk tuk navigating the dirt toad). I had a brainwave amongst the beautiful rolling green hills - a tea company called Mother Pluckers Teas of Distinction. Kate wasn’t sold on the idea.
What I found most interesting is the Australian influence in these very old plantations. The trees that sparsely populated the plantations included eucalyptus species, Grevillea robusta and Callistemons. I’m yet to learn why...
By this stage, the clouds were rolling in and as the clock passed 3, we decided to make the long crawl home.Read more