Every morning, afternoon and evening billions of cups of tea are being drunk. The English drink it with milk, Arabs and Turks, with plenty of sugar, a spoon of jam adds Russians, Mongols with salt, milk and butter of yak, and the Poles with slice of lemon. Today I’m taking you to a land where the highest quality tea is produced, to Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was called for 4 centuries of colonization).
Working in an idyllic landscape
Mid-March, the temperature around 30 degrees Celsius, and we, from the lazy riding train still feeling sore feet after climbing Adam’s Peak, are enjoying the views of stretching tea plantations covering the hills like a green carpet. Here and there crossed by paths with a reddish color. The landscape is simply idyllic. Last stop of our ride is Haputale. The town, which is tightly surrounded by dozens of hectares of tea plants.
Early in the morning we go 11 km south of the town. Urban minibus filled with children in white uniforms aiming to school. And among them we, the Flying Tea Lover Polack, traveling companion Kasia and two super cool women from Slovakia, which we met accidentally on a bus, who decided continue the rest of their travel with us :)
The morning fog has slowly dropped, and dozens of tea workers, dressed in colorful costumes and old sandals, moving with large sacks, to the designated space in the plantation. Tea gather here only women. Guys, considered to be less accurate and not having a heart for the job, are discriminated ;)
I peep at their work. Hands operate so quickly between the branches, that it’s hard to keep up with eyes. Smiling lady breaks only young, light leaves. After filling the whole hand, throws the leaves into a bag on her back strapped to the forehead. I try to ask does she realize that they produce here the best tea in the world. Unfortunately, she didn’t understand me.
Too bad, maybe a modest compliment would be a nice addition to the low wages these ladies earn ( 4$ per day) and poor living conditions. The vast majority of plantation workers live in stuffy barracks somewhere in the midst of plantations, often without access to running water.
They’re Tamils. That population was brought by the British from southern India just to work on the plantations as for local Sinhalese, such work was appealing. Today, because of belonging to the lowest caste, different culture, linguistic and religious group, are significantly marginalized.
Then, after filling the whole bag, carrying it suspended on the forehead they go to a collection point where the leaves are weighed. Typically, the bag is from 4 to 5 kg. That day forager collects 3 more such bags, giving a total of about 20 kg leaves per woman.
Thanks to the skillful fingers of these ladies, Ceylon tea is considered so unique. As in other exporting countries, such as India or Kenya the leaves are picked by machine. And machine, after all, can’t distinguish which leaf is young and fresh and which one is too old.
24 hours and done!
Here machines are used only in the factory. But even they are closely supervised by humans. Computerization’s still far away, since machines were brought here by the British in the XIX century and still work!
The whole production process takes approximately 24 hours. First they fill the large chutes with leaves, where the temperature is not less not more 25 degrees Celsius. After approx. 15 hours, the leaves lose half of humidity.
Then the leaves are crushed and ground to release all chemical substations that when combined with oxygen they undergo oxidation. The final step is to put the leaves in the oven preheated to 120 degrees Celsius (though it depends on the secrets of the production of each factory).
Ready tea is sent to Colombo, where the stock market, on the basis of quality assessment by a special expert whose main working tool is his palate, the broker determines the price. From there, tea is exported all over the world.
A brilliant career
Although the tea plantations overgrown almost the whole Sri Lanka, not without a reason, I decided to choose the Haputale. In that region its first plantation bought Sir Thomas Lipton.
In the second half of the XIX century, parents have entrusted him to manage a tiny convenience store tea in Glasgow, Scotland, where he’s from. As others, he used to supply his shop in the tea from a local warehouse. Once upon a time, instead of paying agents, decided to go to the source, that is, to the British colony of Ceylon. There, from his savings, he bought his first tea plantation and built tea factory.
As it turned out it was an amazing idea! Over the next decades, he created an empire of 300 stores worldwide, from the hands of Queen Victoria he received noble title , and today his company owns more than 11,000 hectares of tea plantations, not only in Sri Lanka but mainly in Kenya and Tanzania.
If not a disease…
Although when I say the words “Sri Lanka” I think “tea” it isn’t easy to buy it here or drink in some elegant tea room. The stores sells the product of the lowest quality, and most of the locals …offers coffee.
And the coffee was seen as a plant that was supposed cover whole Ceylon. In the mid-XIX century were cut out whole tracts of rainforest, prepared infrastructure, and then the whole plan collapsed! All shrubs of coffee were attacked by some fungus. It was decided to make up for the loss by planting tea. They started a business that brings lots of money till today.
Today Sri Lanka is the 4th largest exporter of tea in the world (after China, India and Kenya), but here tea is sold as “Premium Ceylon Tea” a lot more expensive than competitors.
I hope that after a dose of information and stories, we’ll be now a bit more aware of, and thus feeling special drinking the amber drink :)
Here you’ll find a short report from the trip:
…Unfortunately, webcam has been swept away by the wave and all videos are resting somewhere on the bottom of the Indian Ocean :( So to not be let me being sad anymore, give a like on Facebook if you liked the post and if you didn’t give an expression of disapproval in the comment: D
Soon will be released another posts from Sri Lanka!