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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119 Comments

  1. 5:00 a.m. in the morning made me laugh! I just watched a documentary on tea by David Lee Hoffman. I’ve learned from him and from you that I probably have never had a decent cup of tea. Now I’ll have to work on that. Thanks for brightening up a dull Friday evening!

  2. ~Looks like a great lesson in Tea, in a beautiful country. It makes want to board a plane to somewhere exotic! As usual, thanks for the lovely photos.

  3. I think this post is going into my top ten fave’s of Slim. That sign was hilarious!!!! P.S. did you really jot down notes on all the tea info? Really? Is there nothing you can’t do?! So, you jotted, clicked and pointed all at the same time!

  4. Wow that certainly makes me appreciate the tea I drink each day! I did not know the labored process of harvesting tea. Thanks.
    Karen

  5. Dear Slim

    I am LOVING these photos sick! You look so cute and don’t get me started on the scenery!

    I remember reading that no one drank tea when they first actioned the plantations…

    Keep the photos coming they really are Fabulous. With a Capital F.

    Love FF xxx

  6. Hello Slim….

    Thank you for your posts…They are all the time,super great!!!!…

    I love all the pictures and I can even smell the fresh green leaves!!!!

    Thank you for sharing with us your amazing trips…

    Take care and say hi to the boys….

    XXX

    Bises from Melbourne,Australia….

  7. Several years ago. I saw a wonderful documentary on Tea Fields in Sri Lanka, what a great adventure for you!, I am thrilled to see and read about your trip.

  8. So glad you’re back and that you had a good trip. The pics are amazing, as usual! It’s not even 7am and I learned something this morning. Thx. And, by the way, the words gin and church were in two separate sentences :) Enjoy the weekend.

  9. Thanks for the very interesting education on tea. You expanded my existing tea knowledge which I acquired from my English grandmother. And thanks for knowing just when to fast forward by saying “Then a lot of crazy stuff happens.”
    I really like the photo of the 5S System. I wish I had a full view of it to frame and hang in my mudroom as inspiration.
    Love the photos of gorgeous you in these fabulous locales.
    You really have a gift for painting an imaginary picture with words, bringing it to life with photos then adding a heart swell with just the right song.

    • Oh, and happy St. Pattie’s Day to you too! I’m headed to Newbury Street to get my hair cut but will definitely steer clear of Southie today!

  10. wow. what an adventure!!….. thanks for sharing your travels. always interesting & inspiring!

    on another note, looks like you’ve nixed your “signature” from the bottom of your photos. i found it detracted from your great pix, so thank you!!

    erin go braugh!!

  11. Slim what lush verdant fields of tea. This is a tour I could really get into. You look great by the way, even with the humidity.

    Also thank you for always brightening my day with your fun sense of humor.

    xoxo
    Karena
    Art by Karena

  12. Goal of the day–get my teas into metal containers even though I love the pretty box that my Sprng Dragon comes in. I love tea and your post makes me really appreciate the work of all the people involved in the production…thank you to them and you too!

  13. Loved your Out of Africa reference. Every time I watch that movie I am inspired to travel to exotic lands and have new adventures….which I never really do…so thanks for taking me on this one!!!

  14. Welcome home Slim.. I loved this post. Tea is my very favorite drink. The pics are amazing, as usual. HAPPY ST PAT’S DAY TO YOU. Looking forward to reading and seeing more of your fabulous trip. Had to be the lap top weighing you down, or would that be up??? Drink lots of green beer.

    B J

  15. Thanks for a lovely educational story of the life of tea. Adored the country side , my is it green,? Speaking of “Happy Saint Patricks Day ” Thanks for sharing , and I am off to make myself a cuppa,and appreciate it a lot more than my last.

    • Oh, yah, and I remember listening to Cat Stevens and my very first time smooching with a boy for for hours on end! Nothing like getting that dizzy, heady feeling to “Morining Has Broken” and “Moonshadow”!

      Sigh,,,,

  16. Wonderful post, Slim and look so cute on your vacation! Way to go in style! I just wanted to recommend the video I watched on Netflix streaming called All in this Tea – http://www.allinthistea.com/ It was so interesting and well done, and gave me great insight into how to purchase quality tea (from China). The guy who did the video had a small company importing the tea called Silk Road Teas. They are sold in bulk at Whole Foods by the vitamin dept. and are excellent! On the movie’s website: http://www.allinthistea.com/ they have links to other teas that are good too. Have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day on this cold and rainy morning!

  17. I am forwarding to my boys, as they will love this post – a turn to yesterday, the signs of a life lived by the greening of a leaf, hard work and traditions kindled, the intrinsic romance and yes……..again, green in all textures. I am already twisting arms, to gather gals and walk in your footsteps. Welcome home – awaiting the next Sri Lanka share. The gods have sent us rain this day and the hue of California green has not been so vibrant all the dry winter.

  18. As a tea devotee, so interesting to learn how it is made. You were so fortunate to get that tour and see it all. The, “A lot of crazy stuff happens,” quote was the best! I can totally see checking out at some point. What a beautiful part of the world. Loved the music again!

  19. Fascinating! Thanks–I don’t drink tea but wish I liked it as I know it is very good for you. Any suggestions for a beginner tea drinker as to what is really good without tasting like tea would be more than welcome.
    Pictures of you are appreciated as it is more fun to read your blog knowing what you look like! Thank you for sharing your trip!

  20. I had to run make a pot of Market Spice Earl Grey tea which reminds me of Murchies’ Earl Grey. I’m easily influenced in terms of tea. I can’t watch a Jane Austen movie (or any British period piece for that matter) without consuming copious amounts of hot tea.

  21. St. Patricks day is a hard one as there are so many people that do not realize that St. Patrick is far more a sinner than a saint. He killed an unknown amount of druids and priestess’s in the name of Christianity. He tried to eradicate the “pagans” as the “snakes” that he supposedly banished from Ireland was/is symbolic of the old sacred people of the land. I think it is important that we educate ourselves of the truth behind this inebriated holiday. Tea I can comprehend celebrating just not St. Patrick.

  22. Bravo! You look pretty good for a woman without air conditioning! (I get Peter Frampton inspired hair when it’s humid and there’s no A/C, but you look great!) The tea language is fascinating and your photos are beautiful!

  23. Slim

    Another wonderful post with magnificent images. It’s so beautiful isn’t it! When we first arrived in Sri Lanka we used to spend days off at the beach but after awhile came to love the hill country so much we spent almost all our in-Sri Lanka vacations “upcountry”. The acres of the Peradeniya Gardens were so lush and beautiful. Did you get there?

    The tea estates are heavenly, we came to know people on a number of them and often spent time there. They mostly had beautiful gardens and swimming pools. We’d take our hosts bottles of good scotch and brandy we could buy duty free (it was very expensive in normal shops) and they’d bring us bags of tea fresh from their factories whenever they came down to Colombo. One of the people we stayed with was a member of the old Kandyan royal family. He had many wonderful stories. He also used to have the then President of Sri Lanka to stay. One time we had the room the President had stayed in not so long before. When we returned to Colombo I shocked people by saying I’d slept in the President’s bed!

    Can’t wait for your next post!

  24. I so enjoyed this post, but then I can’t remember one I didn’t enjoy. Love love the photography and humor among other parts of your blog. What a wonderful trip it must have been. Thanks for posting about it.

    I am always looking forward to your next post. They’re a joy, they’re a gift. Glad I discovered you somehow in blog land.

    Thanks for infusing Beauty into my day.

    Elizabeth

  25. Slim:
    Thanks for sharing that post with us! I never knew so many of those facts about tea, that you just threw at us in that post! Tea, I live for tea! It’s quite a tradition with me and thanks for the photos so dreamy, and I am definitely storing my tea in a tin from now on! Can’t wait for the story of the church post:) You are truly inspired, hope you enjoyed your St. Patrick’s Day as well! Noelle

  26. Ahhhh, Cat Stevens……I am so happy to see that face again. I’m off to decide which kind of tea to drink, and remember not to scald the tea as I have been doing for at least 30 years.

    xx

  27. I didn’t realize you were back already. Very interesting post, Slim! I can’t get over how different the leaves look when they’re just picked. I expected them to be much smaller.
    Have to disagree with you on Earl Grey tea, though. Give me plain black, Jasmine or Darjeeling anytime. :)

  28. we did our geography project on tea production in class 10 but this is far more interesting is the train pic of india they have the same name of train there i ve traveled by it many times

  29. Great blog, just found it. Was playing with the idea (whilst drinking my green tea with madarin and verbena) of going to Sri Lanka for research on a book. I think you’ve just made my mind up for me. It looks amazing!

  30. I just felt like falling into a Genie’s bottle of Hendrick’s gin while going thru this!!! God! What imagination you got, gal! and mention of gin and church in single sentence ! Brilliance!! :) Keep writing!
    Yours, instant follower!

  31. Brilliant photography! Your commentary and those lovely photography surely took me to the same journey you had for few minutes. Thank you very much for sharing your experiences with us.

  32. Nice pictures and story of tea making, I like Earl Grey, which one is your favourate :-) I hope you add more pictures in your post, which camera you use, I write on books and few assorted topics , hope you check my posts, and comment of you like them, Cheers

  33. Thank you for posting about tea! I’ve always wished to learn more about tea. To me, it’s a simple treat that reconnects you to nature somehow lol.

    The Tea Trails remind me of the “dragon terraces” in China. I love their greenery. They bring me peace.

    Well, congrats on being freshly-pressed! Time for me to try some new varieties of tea:)

  34. From one irish las to another … I am envoius those photos are lovely and your words are great. Paddy’s Day here may have been green but wet and Easter hasn’t been much better. So sending you an Irish Hug and drink a cuppa for me too

  35. Thanks for the wonderful post and pictures. I learned a lot about tea, and actually enjoyed my time doing so. :) Have a wonderful day. Lisa

  36. What a fun post! Thank you for sharing this! As an avid tea drinker it is so great to see where the tea I love so much comes from. And in such vivid color!!

  37. Where did all these comments errupt from? 27 back to back in just the last 24 hours on a post that’s 3 and a half weeks old…did I miss the memo?

  38. Your photos made me want to visit the ancient land of Sri Lanka. Your tea manufacturing photos in those gorgeous hills with that church and water fall, and train ride, and immaculate factory especially the photo of three stages of tea and the railway station – each one so precious I dont know which one to see again and again. Thank you so so so much for sharing. loved your title!

  39. I admit I am relatively new to the blogging world, but this was the most fascinating blog post I have ever read. I’m sending it to my husband, too. We both LOVE tea, but I didn’t know anything about it before reading this! All tea comes from one plant?? AMAZING. I had no idea I wanted to go to Sri Lanka, but now it’s pretty high up on my dream vacation list! I can’t put in to words how much I enjoyed reading this. Thank you!

  40. Awesome post! I never knew the humble ‘tea’ has SUCH an interesting story behind it! :)
    I really enjoyed reading it…. and of course the pics were amazing! :)

  41. Pingback: People We Admire: Slim Paley | Chalkboard China

    • ha ha! Actually, Hendrick’s is a black opaque bottle, but I did name the wrong gin didn’t I? Pavlov’s dog…

  42. OK, I grabbed my wife’s bottle (I’m not ordinarily allowed to touch it) and held it up the bright sun. Rich, dark brown. Never seen glass that color. So we’re both wrong. But a delicious Hendrick’s and Fever Tree will make the pain go away…regardless, the tea piece/post was fascinating.

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