Green Gold

Ceylon teaSlim Paley photo

Fields of TEA, the most consumed beverage on the planet

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Being an Irish lass, what better day to post about my visit to the tea plantations of Sri Lanka than on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day?!

And ye of little faith, thinking I wasn’t going to post this week!

Why I was just getting settled back in, unpacking, battling jet lag and eating Coldstone’s ice cream at 5:00am in the morning.

You know, the usual…

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tea plantationsSlim Paley photo

Certainly one of the highlights of our trip was the time we spent along the Tea Trails.

Imagine falling into a Genie’s bottle of Hendrick’s gin and you’ll get some idea of the verdant atmosphere of this area.

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Did you notice the tiny church nestled at the top of the fields of tea? The most beautiful little church in the world, which I’m saving for another post.

Did I just mention gin and church in the same sentence? :(

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white teaSlim Paley photo

Who knew that all tea; English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Jasmine, Orange Pekoe, green, even white tea (which, seen above, is the healthiest tea of all) comes from the same tea plant?!

White tea is made from the silver tipped uppermost leaves with the barely perceptible hairs you see on the leaf above. For high quality teas no more than the top 3 leaves of the plant will be picked.

Various flavours such as “Earl Grey” are infused into the tea after the leaves have been processed by the tea factory. To Earl Grey for example, one of my favorites, bergamot is added, for Lady Grey, simply a lighter note of bergamot. For Jasmine tea the jasmine flower is added during the fermenting process, Green tea is unfermented and black tea is fermented for exactly 2 hours and 40 minutes, a minute less and the tea tastes soapy, a minute more and the leaves start to acquire a bitter taste.

And yes, that is the sound of my fingernails brushing against my lapel :)

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Slim Paley photo

Our journey to Hatton began from the most adorable train station, built in 1867 and located in the beautifully named town of Peradeniya.

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Train stations, Sri Lanka.

Whaaat?! that can’t be right! It’s definitely my laptop.

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We had booked ahead and managed to score seats in the “Super Luxury A/C Cabin”

…or so we thought…

Only to find our “First Class” carriage doing a shockingly good imitation of a sardine tin… Ahhnd whatever happened to that air conditioning??

The train immediately pulled out of the station and as the journey was supposedly to last 4 hours (I say supposedly as Time is a rather fluid concept in Sri Lanka) we were, needless to say, horrified. The entire situation was so messing with my ‘Meryl Streep getting off the train to glimpse Robert Redford in Africa’ fantasy. Different continent, and duffel bags rather than steamer trunks & fine china but really, that was beside the point. My upper lip began to get dewy. My hair continued to expand.

After much pushing, yelling, and jostling of body bag-sized backpacks, the conductor was able to insert his way into our car and inform all those passengers from a certain tour group from a country that shall remain nameless, that they simply had to disembark at the next station TOUT de SUITE.

EXCUSEZ MOI.

.Slim Paley photo

A seat at last, and who needs air conditioning (which I abhor really) when you can throw open the window to a warm breeze and this kind of view?

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waterfalls, Sri Lanka

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travel Ceylon

Nuwara Eliya “The Little England of Sri Lanka”

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The tiny white spots you see in the photo below are the tea harvesters.

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Leaves are picked every 7 days. Each picker has their own zone and the rotating is very methodical. The bushes can live to be 135 yrs. old, are fertilized every 3 months and cut back every 4 years. One single branch is left uncut to stop the plant from going into shock. I’m going to try that with a few rose bushes next year and see if it makes a difference.

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Sri Lanka

The tea pickers are given housing by the tea plantations as well as electricity and good schooling for their children.

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A lady walking down the road, though this doesn’t look to be tea she is carrying

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We visited the Norwood Factory in Bogowantalawa where we were given a delightful tour by Andrew Taylor, a direct descendant of James Taylor, the first tea planter in Sri Lanka. Although the factory was not in production the day we visited we were able to take a nice quiet tour and receive Andrew’s undivided attention.

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freshly picked tea leavesSlim Paley photo

Here we begin with the freshly plucked leaves.

They must be moist enough to not break up when they are rolled between your palms.

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The freshly picked baskets of tea leaves are put into this elevator and brought up to the second floor of the factory

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Where they are spread out on these racks

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and dried for a very specific amount of time by these incredibly powerful fans

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Then lots of other crazy stuff happens.

What can I say- I lost some of my notes and was nervous about going up Adam’s Peak later that night- I was trying to preserve energy!

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I thought a few people might enjoy this sign :)

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I know that this machine shimmied and shook like crazy

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and I believe this one cut the leaves but don’t quote me

Towards the end of the process the leaves are put into a huge oven heated entirely by burning wood.

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I was rather taken with the Norwood Factory’s “5S System” which they’ve adopted from the Japanese.

I might add that the factory and all the machinery was immaculate.

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.tea country, Sri Lanka

3 stages of tea

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The entire process of taking the tea leaf from the bush to finished product is accomplished in a single day.

7 days a week. 365 days a year.

There is no down season in the tea world.

From every batch of tea, a small sample is sent to all the brokers in Sri Lanka representing purveyors from around the world, from Lipton’s to Fornum & Mason. Their agents will expertly inspect the quality of leaves for colour, consistency and taste and then bid on individual lots at auction every week. A tea taster can manage 800-1,000 tastings A DAY. Take that wine tasters.

So from the field to the bank for the tea producer is a 3 week turnaround. What a great business!

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Finally, our taste test lesson, which involved swilling, slurping, spitting and face making whilst we searched for hopefully a lack of any ‘foreign’ perfume or wood smoke, while trying to ascertain a fresh citrusy scent, slight tingle on the tip of our tongues, and a general feeling of well being.

In other words, we had great fun!

Lastly, just a couple more things to remember;

Authentic tea leaves from Sri Lanka should have the name “Dilmah” on the packaging.

In order to keep tea fresh you should remove it from cardboard boxes and store in metal tins. If tea is wrapped in Aluminum foil it will keep for 3 years as opposed to 18 months, at best, unwrapped.

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And how, being a child of a certain era, could I resist adding this??!

Tea For The Tillerman


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What young girl didn’t drink copious cups of tea listening to the Cat??!

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Slim Paley at tea plantation, Sri Lanka

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God Cat

Stop following me!

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The fine tea of the Norwood plantation ready to be sent around the world.

Of course this post has only barely brushed against the fascinating world of tea. There are a zillion books on the subject, one being “The Empire of Tea: The Remarkable History of the Plant That Took Over the World” by Alan & Iris Macfarlane.

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Slim Paley photo

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Wishing my Irish relatives and everyone that cares to celebrate A Very Happy St. Patrick’s Day

And for those of you in Ireland, Boston and New Orleans-take it easy on the green beer and “Kilt Lifters”!!

xoxo

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