“Does it taste a little gummy?” asked the Norwood Tea Factory’s resident planter, Andrew Taylor. I was swirling a mouthful of cold tea in my mouth with all the concentration that people usually reserve for wine tasting. They take their tea seriously in Sri Lanka, after all it is one of the largest tea exporting nations in the world. Andrew Taylor takes his tea very seriously indeed and he was our guide for a tour of the Norwood Tea Factory deep in Sri Lanka’s tea country in the Bogalantalawa valley. We made our way to the tea country by train from Kandy. Along the way vendors stopped to sell delicious snacks of prawn vadai (lentil cakes topped with prawns) packaged in used school exercise books. Nothing goes to waste in Sri Lanka. Once in Hatton we drove the half an hour to the tea plantations. Set in rolling green hills you could see teams of Tamil workers picking the tea leaves, carefully selecting the required two leaves and one bud from the top of each bush.
Travel snacks for sale when the train stopped
The process of making the tea was fascinating. After being picked each morning the tea leaves are transported to the factories where they are laid on wire netting to dry or “wither” in the cool breezes that come through the open windows. From here the tea is gathered and rolled in machines that have not changed since the Victorian times, then it is fired and finally graded. The whole process is very labour intensive (like grapes for champagne, tea must be picked by hand) and very natural. It has certainly made me appreciate my cup of tea more and I will no longer be using tea-bags, or juggling the tea-bag in and out briefly “like a dead mouse”.
The withering rooms at the factory where the tea leaves are dried
We stayed at the Tea Trails, a group of old colonial planters bungalows. These were the height of luxury and a chef came out each day to discuss the menu with you. We were served breakfast, lunch, dinner and of course afternoon tea on the wide verandahs looking out over the tea plantation. My breakfast of boiled eggs with mushrooms, tomato and a hash brown just had to be one of the most perfectly cooked and presented breakfast I have ever seen. The attention to detail was incredible right down to the signature “two leaves and a bud” from the tea plants which garnished every meal.
A picture perfect breakfast at Tea Trails
Lunches and dinners were a mixture of Sri Lankan curry feasts and more Western food such as creamy mushroom soup or pork fillets served with a peppered sauce and a salad dressed with salad. Dessert was always a highlight and featured dishes such as delicate puff pastry triangles stuffed with berries and accompanied by rich vanilla bean ice-cream. Each afternoon, cream tea was served complete with a tiered cake stand of cucumber sandwiches, scones with jam and cream and delicate tea cakes. The tea from the Norwood tea plantation is sold under the Dilmah brand in the UK.
Pork fillet with peppered sauce at Tea Trails
Details: Tea Trails, Bogalantawa Valley (near Hatton), Sri Lanka (Ph +94 11 230 3888)
Damage: Budget Breaking
Gourmet Travel Tips
The Tea Trails operates on an all inclusive basis (including all meals and alcohol) for €310 for two people a night. It is hands down, the best place I have ever stayed in my life due to the amazing service and sheer decadence and luxury of the place. They even bring you a pot of tea in bed every morning. A tour of the Norwood Tea Factory is included if you stay at Tea Trails.