No trip to Sri Lanka is complete without at least a pass through the country’s glorious central hill country. Go one better, though, and take your time: chug past tea plantations on one of the world’s great train rides–stop off to visit a tea factory–and spend a few nights in the cool, misty realm of a former British hill station. During our month-long stay in Sri Lanka, Tom and I did all of these things. Here are five indelible memories of our travels through Sri Lanka’s “pure Ceylon tea” country.
Learning about tea
We spent the better part of a day at the Somerset Tea Factory, where tea is produced in Somerset’s name and for export, under the well-known Dilmah label. We began with a tour through the factory, where we were shown every step of the painstaking process that turns bright green tea leaves into the pekoes we know. It’s a ten-step process: green leaf receiving, spreading the leaves, withering, collecting, then rolling the withered leaves, fermenting, firing, grading, storing and finally, dispatching shipments to brokers.
Aruna Bandaranayake, Senior Manager of the Somerset Estate, then asked us to don aprons for a lesson in tasting tea, a test that every batch of tea undergoes…it’s a daily management chore at the factory, before a shipment can be transferred to the broker’s market for competitive bidding. It was a little like tasting wine or olive oil, accomplished with slurpy gusto.
Meeting the tea pluckers
Tea plantations are tended by men, but the task of picking tender leaves for daily processing is the province of women, and at Somerset, more than 800 of them. The picturesque woven baskets of the past have mostly been replaced by purpose-built ones made of light-weight technical fiber. They’re ergonomic these days, and can be filled in a series of single motions, which the tea pickers demonstrated for us. It’s still a tough job, but the new gear lightens the load, just a little.
A proper cup of tea
Today, Dilmah is one of the top tea brands in the world, owning the tea plantations, process of tea leaves and packaging the tea for sale. After touring the factory and tasting the morning’s tea production, we were invited us to the estate manager’s home for tea.
Meeting kids and caregivers
We ended our visit to Somerset at the company’s child-care and health facilities. From the estate’s health team, we learned about the school’s awareness program for HIV, involvement in the Rainforest Alliance, and efforts to teach the children to “love nature”.
The MJF Charitable Foundation was established by Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando, to fulfill his commitment to make his family business a matter of human service. The Foundation utilizes revenues from the global sales of Dilmah teas to change the lives of the underprivileged in Sri Lanka.
Luxuriating in boutique comfort
Several nights at the Langdale by Amaya gave us a chance to rest and recover from weeks of temples and nature in the flatlands of Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle.
The first night, the sound of a steady rain on the roof had us burrowing deep into comfy bedding. Even mealtimes were cozy at the Langdale, with just thirteen rooms and an intimate dining room to accommodate everyone. Spa services, the only grass tennis courts in the country, and a chance to trek through tea fields, made the Langdale by Amaya an ideal place to chill in this part of Sri Lanka!
If you go
Make the most of slow travel and revel in Sri Lanka’s laid-back culture:
- Stop in at the tea museum in Kandy before you head for the hills
- Take the train, sit in the doorway and watch the world go by
- Make time for down time, stopping along the way for an overnight stay
- Enjoy the nature that’s all around, whether on a side trip to Adam’s Peak or a visit to the botanical garden in Nuriya Ella
- Be sure to visit a tea plantation and factory
Looking for foodie inspiration? You cannot go wrong with suggestions, recipes, and travel hints from Peter Kuruvita, Dilmah brand ambassador and one-man Sri Lanka cheerleading squad! I love Peter’s recipes and videos, and would really, really like to visit one of his restaurants, when I make it to Australia!
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To see all our travel stories from Sri Lanka, click here.