Sri Lanka

Published on March 7th, 2011 | by Simon


Tea for two

Today was one of those simply magical serendipitous days one gets every now and again when travelling.
For a start I’d met a fellow traveller – a Swedish woman who has been setting up womens medical care centres in Dubai and has just been head-hunted by the ruler of Qatar to do the same there. So this is her ‘gap vacation’. We had met at the guesthouse and as we had almost identical plans for the day, we set out together for Liptons Seat. 
This meant an 18km tuk-tuk ride up into the hills, followed by a 1km walk up a track through fields of tea bushes as far as the eye can see. Imagine hills totally coloured from lime to bright emerald green and misty views into the coastal plains about 2000 metres below. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
I jokingly commented as we crested the final rise that a cup of tea would be nice – and lo and behold a little old guy was there in a shack with his billie can on a wood fire under a rock, offering tea and biscuits (for 40 cents). 
What made it surreal was that he was sporting a Peanuts Halloween sweatshirt. This was clearly not chosen by him as a while later he asked (through a guide who had shown up with another couple) what was the meaning of ‘Trick or Treat’. He gets about 25 visitors a day to what is one of the most stunning places of natural beauty I have seen in a very long time.
Sir Thomas Lipton bought this entire plantation back in 1890 or thereabouts. It still  bears his name but is now controlled by the Ceylon Tea Board who have the largest factory in Sri Lanks about 7 kms back down the road which is the hike we then took, passed all the time by (mostly Tamil Indian) women who are the tea pickers. They work all day to collect 16kilos of the tea leaf tips for a wage of about $2.50 a day. The factory receives an astounding 30,000 kilos (30 tonnes) of leave a day which are spread out to dry, allowed to ferment, are rolled in a big dry washing machine, are chopped, then baked in a still (amazingly) wood-fired oven, and are then sized and graded up to the highest level which is FTGFOP – ‘Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe’ – otherwise known as ‘Far Too Good For Ordinary People’.
All this goes to produce 7tonnes (or about 28,000 packets of tea) every single day.
Totally magical.


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