All over the cooler central highlands of Sri Lanka, the historic industry of tea-growing continues at a steady modern beat, producing over 20% of the world’s tea, at a rate of over 300 million kg a year.
An endless carpet of lush green plantation estates covers the rolling hills and ducking valleys with a calming, soul-soothing continuity. As if untouched by anything other than the delicate hands of pickers, the region has retained its pioneering soul since the late 19th century, when James Taylor first introduced the green leaf to what was then Ceylon, in 1867.
By the end of the century, as global demand increased, swathes of coffee estates had been turned into tea plantations, with tea factories producing enough to export across the world. Under the directorship of the Ceylon Tea Traders Association (formed 1894) the bedrock of this local industry grew to make hugely significant GDP contributions. Still picked and pruned by hand and employing hundreds of thousands of workers, the tea industry remains equally impressive today, contributing 2% of Sri Lanka’s GNP and making the country the world’s fourth largest producer.
The industry’s impact has been long lasting. Today’s inner-island road and rail infrastructure owes much to the development of the tea industry over the centuries. I have been fortunate enough to visit many different tea plantation establishments over the years, and never cease to be impressed by the simplicity of the process. Whether learning how black tea blends – from a number of altitudes – or sampling green and white teas, which have undergone different production methods, the process always appears relatively simple, quick and un-industrial.
Marketed under the Sri Lankan ‘Lion Logo’, today’s crops are exported far and wide to the majority of Commonwealth countries, as well as the Middle East (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iran, Iraq), Europe (Russia, Germany) Asia (from Turkey to Japan) and Africa (Egypt, Libya).
When planning trips to Sri Lanka we at Nomadic Thoughts highly recommend an itinerary via the inland tea-growing highlands. Staying in one of the traditional tea-houses, walking among the patchwork quilt of plantation landscapes, as well as visiting a tea factory, all form an integral part of enjoying Sri Lanka’s history and culture.
The charm of this unique, lush interior, with its dramatic hill-stations, will surely seduce you. Not least as these centuries-old tea plantations provide a magnificent counter-balance to the heat and humidity of the coastal areas.