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Taking the Tea Train

semi-overcast 20 °C

Six thousand feet up in the Central Highlands of Sri Lanka the dense tropical mists slowly roll back under the equatorial sun to reveal a stunningly beautiful landscape...
This is tea country; a land sculpted by man from the rainforests nearly two hundred years ago to satisfy the tastes of Europeans – first with coffee and later with tea...
However, beauty is only skin deep and this Garden of Eden has a less attractive side – the lives of the tea pickers...
Working in a beautiful landscape doesn't make up for the Dickensian living conditions of these poor people and their families, and it is difficult to see a brighter future for them. So, the next time you casually toss a tea bag into a cup, spare a thought for the women who daily struggle up these steep terraces in all weathers to gather the tenderest of leaves until they wilt under the weight of their sacks. Only the three tiniest leaves are plucked from the tops of the bushes and it takes a million or more to fill a sack... and their reward for a day's work is just five Canadian dollars...
The new growth is plucked every seven days and the pickers painstakingly work their way across the plantation in a never ending cycle. The giant tea factories have an insatiable thirst and it takes many millions of leaves a day to keep the wheels turning...
The newly picked leaves are first withered by fans in enormous vats until they lose three quarters of their weight. And then they are crushed, fermented, dried, chopped and sieved in a process that takes a day or more until they are separated by size and colour into a range of teas to satisfy all tastes. All teas come from the same plant, a camellia, and it is only the processing that produces the numerous differing strengths and flavours. And here is the finished product waiting to be shipped to Mr. Lipton, Mr. Twining or Mr. Dilmah...
We love taking English High Tea and there is nowhere better to experience this time-honoured afternoon tradition than at the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya, an iconic Colonial watering hole in the midst of tea country...
Smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches, scones with Devon cream, and a pot of the finest Orange Pekoe, has been served to homesick Brits and well-heeled travellers since the Grand was built as a lodge for the British governor in the 1830s...
Another tradition here in Central Sri Lanka is to ride the train on the rickety tracks built by the British to transport the tea to the auction houses in Colombo and then, by the fastest sailing ships in the world, the renowned Tea Clippers, to the tea houses of England in the late 1800s.
The train to Ella, in the heart of the mountains, winds its way along steep escarpments and through multitudes of tunnels, giving us a grandstand view of the densely forested hillsides and the tiny farming communities that are scattered along the tracksides.
All manner of crops grow abundantly in this sweet land and next time we will show some astounding displays of vegetable. For now – here are a few leeks...

Posted by Hawkson 03:31 Archived in Sri Lanka

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We had great time in Nuwara Eliya Grand Hotel in the evening.

by Danushka Fernando

Thanks be to those who work so hard to bring us tea, and those who tell us about it.

by Janet

We so often take for granted the food that we eat and the people work so hard for a few pennies mostly women... love from jean

by Jean McLaren

Always important to remember where our food comes from. Thanks for that.

by Sue fitzwilson

Scones and Devon cream. Brings back memories of Antony. "High tea" would give him such an opening for one of his discourses.

by R and B

Great post, wonderfully captured scenery; tea makes for great and light-weight gifts?
Thanks G

by Gottfried

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