What was it to be? Premium quality silver tip – green leaf – orange pekoe – broken orange pekoe (BOP) – broken orange pekoe fannings (BOPF)? Or just simply ‘dust’, available in three different grades?
A cup of afternoon tea was definitely high on the agenda, having just travelled for 5 hours on the train from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya. After a quick snack at Mount View Cottage we set off with our driver for the Mackwoods Tea Plantation, which is geared up for visitors to watch the tea manufacturing process and enjoy a cuppa in their lovely old café.
Mackwoods is one of the largest plantations, employing over 1,000 staff. We saw pluckers outside, watched leaves being withered and rolled in the factory to start fermentation, then dried using heat and graded before finally being packed in bags or tea chests for transportation to Colombo and the tea auction house there. It is then distributed across the world. Though the British began the industry in the 1870’s, interestingly the Middle East is the biggest export market today, followed by North Africa.
In this region the scenery is spectacular in its own way, as manicured tea bushes grow wherever possible, covering total hillsides and valleys in varying shades of green. No wonder, because the warm climate, altitude and sloping landscape are ideal for growth and make Sri Lanka the world’s 4th largest producer. A plucker’s objective is to pick by hand between 20 and 30 kg (that’s 44 to 66 lbs) a DAY and the whole process from picking to bagging for shipment takes just 24 hours. Some statistic! But remuneration is a pittance, the labour Tamils, originally brought over from India who live in basic huts called linehouses.
Nuwara Eliya became a singularly British creation, having been ‘discovered’ by John Davy in 1819, and subsequently became known as a place where English fruit and vegetables could be grown. Coffee was one of the first crops grown here, but after its failure due to disease in the early 19th century, the colonists switched to tea, and the town quickly found itself becoming the Hill Country’s tea capital, a title still proudly borne, though we understand all plantations are now owned by Sri Lankan people.