Tea was first introduced to Sri Lanka by the British 150 years ago, and is now an integral part of Sri Lanka’s economy and culture. Despite the country’s small size, Sri Lanka is one of the world largest exporters of tea. Within the country, morning and afternoon tea are as expected as lunch and dinner. During every visit to a Sri Lankan’s home one will be greeted with a tray bearing a pot of tea, a bowl of sugar, heated milk and fine china. I had told Sarah before we arrived to be ready to drink multiple cups each day we visited relatives.
Tea is grown near Nuwara Eliya, the highest elevation town in Sri Lanka. Nuwara Eliya’s mild weather compared to the heat of the coasts makes it a destination for domestic and foreign tourists alike. After spending a few days in the bustling capital of Colombo we headed off to Nuwara Eliya. we decided to take the scenic route to the high country and travel by train. Seven dollars paid for first class tickets in the back of the train in the observation car with a large glass window looking back on the tracks.
We settled in for our long journey at 5:55 AM.
The train chugged along at first, but when the track steepened it slowed down to a snail’s pace. Apparently the rail system hasn’t been updated since the British put it in. Lack of speed was more than compensated for by spectacular views. After sleeping the first few hours we sat back and enjoyed the ride.
Sarah read most of the time but I acted as the locals did and stuck my head out the window.
After seven hours we had traveled the 100 miles to our destination.
Because it was off season we had the hotel to ourselves and were charged a great rate. The receptionist told the TV watching chef to cook us something. He dutifully stood up from the couch and went to work scraping coconuts and chopping vegetables.
After lunch we went to tour the plantations and factory of the Labookellie Tea Center.
The half hour bus ride to the factory was through miles after miles of plantations similar to these.
The factory itself was a smaller building. After the tea is plucked by hand it is brought here to be dried.
Then chopped and rolled.
And packaged for export.
After the tour, we were invited to participate in the last stage of tea production: the tasting. The factory had a large attached cafe where we were served cake and a freshly brewed pot to complete our trip to tea country.