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Tea Country

  Sri Lanka Tea Country - The nation's plantations

  Quite possibly the first thing we ever learned about Sri Lanka was that Ceylon Tea was probably one of the finest in the world.  A third eye was definitely opened for us during our visit to the par excellence tea plantation areas around Nuwara Eliya and Ella and we gained a new appreciation for this beverage.

  The scenery

  We left Kandy around 10:00 after we made a short and interesting stop at a batik cloth workshop, for the cooler and higher elevation areas that tea is grown. Our final destination for the day was the Heritance Tea Factory hotel with an expected arrival time some time in early afternoon. Already outside Kandy, at an altitude of about 500 m above sea level, tea plants were visible and as we headed to the 2000 m altitude were the top quality tea is grown, scenery changed from jungle and rice fields to misty covered green leafed covered peaks.
   Fittingly, our first stop was to have a cup of tea at a great little rest house in Pussellawa. We had a lovely chat their with the manager who, as a typical Sri Lankan, wanted to hear our opinion of his country. With plenty of free adviceOld Sri Lanka road received, we continued our climb to still higher elevations. Cliffs begun to be steeper and the hillsides mistier. Foamy waterfalls streamed down around us and locals put those streams to good use. Children were splashing about, women were washing both clothes and themselves at the same time and drivers were taking advantage of natural car washes. Fortunately the road never held any hair raising experiences for us and after taking the slightest of detours to experience how the original road looked like we ended up in a restaurant with magnificent distant views of two sets of waterfalls. Unfortunately grand views do not guarantee great food and what we had in that restaurant was probably the least enjoyable meal during our trip in Sri Lanka.

  Labookelie tea estate

  Continuing our ascend, 20 minutes later we passed by a purple industrial building which turned out to be our first visual contact with a tea factory. A few kilometers later we were stepping out of our vehicle to have a tour of a real working tea factory at the Labookelie tea estate. Surrounded by emerald hills crawling with tea pickers that from a distance looked like ants stood a four storey building that housed the processing of tea leaves.
A polite young Tamil girl took to explaining to us in a group the steps involved in transforming plucked green leaves to dried fragments ready for blending and brewing. We had a bit of a hard time keeping up with what she was explaining both because of the speed she was talking as well as her accent which was
Tea country terrace, Sri Lanka quite different to what we are used to. The tour lasted for about 20 minutes and we were shown to the well stocked factory shop and an adjoining charming tea room. The wood paneled tea room led to the most charming terrace we have ever seen to be located in a factory. Thankfully weather permitted us the luxury to take a most exquisite early afternoon tea there accompanied by chocolate cake. Having sampled the merchandise we visited again the shop and bought with confidence tea to take back home with us at prices that seemed very reasonable.

  Nuwara Eliya and the organic tea factory

The half hour drive to Nuwara Eliya took us through similar terrain and our quick pass through the valley town revealed a place whose center housed attractive looking buildings, a beautiful golf course that despite its excellent appearance was empty of golfers and a racecourse.   As we headed south the road leading out of the town was not as spectacular with more mundane workshops lining the street.  Pretty soon we were more worried about the pot holes and worsening condition of the road than anything else.
  Sitting on the top of a hill half an hour away our hotel for the night, the Heritance Tea Factory hotel beckoned us.
  Our final tea related activity waited for us there.  The hotel runs a mini tea factory with the added advantage of using only organic tea leaves.  Housed right next to the hotel in what used to be the tea estate manager's bungalow, the factory tour can take fifteen minutes or if you start asking questions as we did, maybe half an hour.  A gentleman this time, showed us all the steps of the tea making process.  At this small scale size we had the benefit of looking the machines from all angles up close and got a better understanding of what tea production is all about.  Silver tips, pekoe, BOP and fannings now all made sense to us as a grading system for the quality of tea and sipping this lovely beverage has taken a new dimension for all of us.