We are leaving Earls Regency this morning to head to our next stop in our travels in Sri Lanka – the Heritance Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya. It is a beautiful, sunny day in Kandy and as I bid adieu to the green rolling hills I cannot help but wonder why it is the day that we check out of anywhere, it is nice and sunny but the minute we check into a new place the heavens open up? The rain continues to follow us around the country like a bad smell…
We are lucky enough to get beautiful views of Kandy from the Senani Restaurant area before we leave, embarking on a windy, bendy, twisty uphill journey to Little England, Nuwara Eliya (or ‘Nur eliya’, as the locals call it). The road is so narrow and twisty and if you are prone to car sickness, it would be a good idea to pop a pill before starting the journey.
Nuwara Eliya is the heart of Ceylonese Tea Country, based high up in the hills of Central Sri Lanka, with an altitude that is perfect for growing this commodity, often nicknamed the “champagne of teas” as these are grown in the highest region.
There are acres and acres of gorgeous tea plantations lining the entire route, and I notice that the names of these plantations are typically British and Irish names and we pass the Hellbodde Tea Plantation and Finlays (which also has a plantation in Kenya!) en route to our first stop, the Glenloch Tea Factory. Driving through tea country is like driving through a lush, green tea garden that goes on for miles and miles. It is indeed, one of the most beautiful and picturesque drives we have been on so far in Sri Lanka. The drive from Kandy down to Nuwara Eliya takes us about 3 hours though it is a mere 70 km away.
On arrival at Glenloch, we stop to take a few pictures of the tamil ladies picking tea in the factories plantations, and then start our tour of what is the oldest tea factory in Sri Lanka. The factory is not very big, just two floors but it is a beehive, buzzing with activity. I am an avid tea drinker, and I store stashes of tea from all over the world in my larder at home. So I am most excited to find out how the bright green leaves are turned into the black tea leaves that form the golden brew that I constantly indulge in.
We watch as workers busily unload huge wicker baskets full of freshly picked green tea leaves onto a constantly moving conveyor belt which first removes 50 percent of the moisture, rendering the once green leaf almost brown. These leaves are then sorted into piles of green tea and different piles what will eventually become different grades of black tea.
The green tea is sifted in a separate machine, while what will become black tea is put into a rotator machine and cut into small pieces by a rotating blade. The now broken down leaves are then laid out in a cool, humid atmosphere to ferment and oxidise, until eventually the leaves turn black indicating that the process is now complete. The highest grade of tea is known as “Orange Pekoe” and the lowest “Orange Pekoe Dust Fannings”.
We finish the tour with a complimentary cup of Broken Orange Pekoe tea and also indulge in some retail therapy in the tea shop, buying some silver tip leaf tea and premium quality orange pekoe tea from the shop. This tea will join the ever growing collection in my pantry, for me to brew up and enjoy as I write about my adventures in Nur’eliya!
Having indulged in not one but two cups of this delicious brew, our time at Glenloch is up and it is time for us to hit the road again towards Nuwara Eliya and the Heritance Tea Factory. We drive up higher and higher into the hills of Nur’Eliya, and notice loads of vegetables growing on the roadside – apparently, the climate is not only good for tea but for veggies too. After what seems like hours, we turn a bend and catch a glimpse of our hotel, the Heritance Tea Factory where we will be spending the next couple of nights.
This hotel used to be the Hethersett Tea Factory and its original structure has been retained, and turned into a five star luxury hotel. It is set in a 21 acre tea plantation and I am incredibly excited to be staying here, in a place that groans of history and the yesteryears, where once people worked to brew my favourite beverage. Words escape me, and put simply, it is stunning. Green bushes of tea stretch as far as the eye can see, beautiful wooden benches are strategically placed where one can sit amongst lush green lawns and soak in the vista of green and rolling mist and just meander in your thoughts. I know for sure, that this is a place where my monkey brain will finally be able to calm down in.
The Heritance chain has retained the original structure of the hotel, with the green painted bits being the original structure, the red painted bits being improvements made over the years and the yellow for the water sprinkler system. Stepping into the grand reception, we are welcomed with steaming cups of hot tea, while we sit on one of the strategically placed suede sofas by a bay window offering a panoramic view of the green vista yonder.
The original weighing machine that used to weigh the wicker baskets filled to the brim with the “two leaves and a bud” sits in the middle of the reception, with a wicker basket brimming with green, being the days pick which will make its way to the organic tea factory on site, to be made into leaves for the hotel guest’s tea. There are memorabilia and trinkets everywhere, and I am fascinated by the pictures that remind you that you are indulging in a part of history – the reception used to be the dryer room of the Hethersett Tea Factory, and the bedrooms were the withering lofts. Awesome doesn’t even begin to describe this experience.
And to top it off- the original one-stroke machine that used to run a motor to rotate the dryer fans has been retained in tip-top condition, in its original place in the basement of the hotel – and to make matters even more exciting, this machine cranks to life every evening between 6.30pm and 7.00 pm and runs the fans, as it did in its heyday, making history truly come alive. I cannot wait to see this tonight!
At 3 pm, the mist closes in and we can no longer see the gorgeous green plantation. We head to the Kenmare Bar for some food, and I decide to sample the Heritance High Tea. As usual, the heavens have opened up, and it is pouring outside. But today, somehow the rain has brought with it a different ambiance, and there is something cosy about being shrouded in thick white mist, in a warm, cosy hotel in front of a roaring fire that is not in a fireplace, but a metal stove. It is like we have been teleported to another century. A cup of freshly brewed tea with some scones and cakes sounds like the perfect answer to a cold, rainy day up in the hills of Nuwara Eliya, and I decide to indulge in the Heritance High Tea.
You know by now, that I am a dreamer. And when I think of a high tea, images of Alice in Wonderland at the mad hatter’s tea party mixed with images of delicate china plates of daintily cut sandwiches, mini scones, clotted cream and all sorts of other goodies get conjured up in my mind. After all, we are in mini England, and I am hoping this tradition has stuck somewhat…but, after waiting for what seems like an eternity, a waiter walks in with a large wooden tree like structure, with clunky plates placed atop it. The first has 2 greasy samosas, the second some pieces of cake and a pineapple tart and the third a cucumber sandwich. Then there are the little pots of tamarind chutney, coconut cream and chocolate sauce. No mini scones, or clotted cream or jam or delicate finger sandwiches…but I suppose I am in for a bit of a Sri Lankan High Tea treat?
My hopes of a posh high tea dashed, I embark on a tasting mission in the hope that the taste will redeem my disappointment. No such luck mate – the samosas are oily, the cucumber must have been pulled out of the bottom drawer of the fridge, because the seeds were so hard they were bitter, but the cake was moist and vanilla-ey and redeemed my disappointment – somewhat. Tea is served in a clunky pot and is the mythical straw that breaks the camels back because it is a teabag (!!) in this land of teas, ironically at a tea factory, where tea should be properly brewed! And, at the price of RS 1200, sadly this English High Tea has turned out to be a total waste of money.
Bottom line – if to you, like me, the concept of an English High Tea involves strawberries, scones and clotted cream and the like, and you happen to be staying at the Heritance Tea Factory – skip this tea because it is so far from what is expected, and you will be pretty disappointed.
The mist has made it impossible to take a walk in the beautiful tea plantation, so we amble along to the bar to while away time before dinner, which I am really excited about because it will be aboard the “TCK 6685”…read on to find out what I mean!!