juliamhammond

Tea time in the Hill Country

I expected tea picking to be difficult. Working in the sun on scarily steep slopes for eight hours wouldn’t be my choice of job and certainly not for the 600 rupee (£3) daily wage that these industrious women earn.

Tea pickers off to work

Tea pickers off to work

Learning that the Heritance Tea Factory offered a tea plucking and tasting activity, I jumped at the chance to try my hand. The slopes carpeted with squat tea bushes were relatively gentle compared to those I’d seen from the train on the way in and thickening cloud promised to deal with the heat issue.

Weather changes fast in the hills

Weather changes fast in the hills

The staff at the Heritance kitted out their small but enthusiastic team of volunteers in suitable attire: saris for the women and sarongs for the men. Raising my arms, my dresser tied a string snugly around my waist, into which she tucked a carefully pleated sari. Six metres of fabric is expertly tied to create an elegantly flowing dress, pinned across one shoulder to ensure modesty isn’t neglected.

The basket for collecting leaves

The basket for collecting leaves

Elegant, that is, until I moved. Sadly walking in a long dress without tripping had never been a skill I’d mastered and squeezing my way through the tiniest of gaps between tea bushes only compounded my clumsiness. Unhooking me from a stray piece of barbed wire, our guide led me to the plucking area and demonstrated which leaves to pick.

The guide showed us which leaves to pluck

The guide showed us which leaves to pluck

Get it wrong and the tea will be useless.

Tea, glorious tea!

Tea, glorious tea!

As I started to pick what I hoped were the softer, greener leaves I wished I’d paid closer attention to those deftly thrown into the basket by the expert. My basket, with an optimistic capacity of 3kg given we were only out here for half an hour, looked pathetically empty, despite the guide’s surreptitious efforts to sneak a few handfuls of her leaves in when my attention was diverted.

Not much to show for my efforts

Not much to show for my efforts


No shortage of tea bushes

No shortage of tea bushes

The bag attached with a wide canvas strap across my forehead. As I bent over to pick, it swung a little, needing the weight of some leaves to hold it steady. That strap seemed to have a mind of its own, alternating between slipping down onto my glasses and wriggling up to form a Sixties’ style beehive. Eventually, I gave up and balanced the basket on the ground. It wasn’t quite what was expected but at least I could fling in a few more leaves before my shift ended to save face.

The area surrounding Heritance is stunning

The area surrounding Heritance is stunning

It was hard to concentrate given the beauty of the landscape surrounding the hotel – and indeed, it’s own well-tended gardens. The Heritance Tea Factory has a long history. Its original owner was a man called William Flowerdew who bought the land in 1879, only a decade or so after tea bushes were introduced to Sri Lanka by Scot James Taylor.

Heritance Tea Factory

Heritance Tea Factory

Flowerdew named his factory Hethersett, producing around half a million kilos of tea each year for decades.

Machinery from the factory still in place

Machinery from the factory still in place

The factory buildings were modernised in 1937 but the factory closed, no longer economic, in 1973. Fortunately, it soon underwent a sympathetic restoration: much of the factory machinery remains in situ to make this what surely must be a unique hotel and, with attentive staff, a delight in which to stay.

The table laid for tea tasting; flavour and strength are determined only by how small the leaves have been ground

The hotel has its own tea bar; flavour and strength are determined only by how small the leaves have been ground

The fact that they serve a decent cuppa – well, that’s just a bonus.

Hands off the Flowery Pekoe!

Hands off the Flowery Pekoe!

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3 responses

  1. What a fascinating hotel. and I thought you did rather well for a first time!

    Like

    March 12, 2016 at 4:16 pm

  2. Pingback: Review of the year 2016 | Julia's Travels

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