Grow­ing con­cerns

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence -

clear. Each tea op­tion is ac­com­pa­nied by tast­ing notes; for the watte se­lec­tion, com­par­isons are drawn with wine and cham­pagne.

Ex­trap­o­lat­ing the notes, it ap­pears that at our agree­able al­ti­tude it’s time for a cup of Som­er­set Es­tate, fruity and ex­otic, and the brewed equiv­a­lent of a pinot noir. Cheers.

Tientsin has six spa­cious dou­ble suites lead­ing from a long hall with wide-planked tim­ber floors; the res­i­dence creaks and grum­bles in the wind and the light rain of our Au­gust stay and is all the more charm­ing for it. There are four-poster beds and old-fash­ioned cur­tains, fire­places and deep arm­chairs. The flo­ral ar­range­ments could have been freshly fluffed up by Con­stance Spry. At any tick of a grand­fa­ther clock, in could stride a gruff colo­nial planter, fresh from the rigours of the fac­tory.

In the Brether­ton garden suite at the end of the hall, my bed is king-sized and comfy, of the kind made for af­ter­noon naps and read­ing — ide­ally, The Flower Boy by Karen Roberts and The Hamil­ton Case by Michelle de Kretser, both evoca­tively writ­ten and set in Sri Lankan tea coun­try.

French doors lead from my cham­ber to an emer­ald swath of lawn and morn­ing ‘‘bed tea’’ ar­rives on a tray laid with a white doily. Af­ter the first morn­ing, but­ler Janaka has no­ticed I don’t take milk or sugar, so he leaves the j ug and bowl off the tray and fills the large space be­tween pot and cup with pink an­gel’s trum­pet flow­ers from the garden. (If you do take milk, the cor­rect pro­to­col, I am­told by the but­lers, is to add it once the pure Cey­lon tea has been poured, af­ter the sugar.)

Each night at turn­down, I find a bright green tea leaf tip placed on my snowy pil­low; in the bath­room there’s green tea soap nes­tled in a hand­made leaf bas­ket, and Chi­trani, the spa ther­a­pist who can be booked for treat­ments in guest suites, uses green tea oil for her mas­sages.

In the hey­day of plan­ta­tion life, one would have dressed up for din­ner, or stepped out to join one’s chums and their ladies at one of the mem­bers-only clubs. Tea Trails in­cludes all meals for guests, so we stay in, gath­er­ing for cock­tails in the wood-pan­elled li­brary lounge as the throaty call of a greater cou­cal out­side the win­dow acts as a din­ner bell.

It’s mild enough to dine on the cov­ered ve­randa and chef Pradeep musters the likes of pear, or­ange and blue cheese salad; a del­i­cate lamb dish; and a proper English pud­ding with As­sam tea-in­fused creme anglaise. Lunch could be as sim­ple as curry leaf and len­til soup, served with minia­ture bread rolls. Then a lie-down, of course, in prepa­ra­tion for high tea.

We could be at, say, The Ritz Lon­don, so thor­ough and pol­ished is the per­for­mance. Ar­ranged on a three­tiered stand are tiny lemon-curd tarts, cu­cum­ber sand­wiches (crust­less, on soft white bread, of course) and slices of cherry-speck­led fruit­cake.

My pre­ferred blend this af­ter­noon? I’ll have a Cey­lon cin­na­mon spice, please. Woody and slightly sweet, it is of medium body and del­i­cacy, with an ‘‘en­liven­ing’’ air.

‘‘Good choice, madam,’’ de­clares Janaka, nod­ding with amused ap­proval.

Su­san Kurosawa was a guest of Wildlife Sa­fari. PLUCK­ING, with­er­ing, rolling, fer­ment­ing, fir­ing, dry­ing, sort­ing, grad­ing and pack­ing. You will soon de­velop a new vo­cab­u­lary and feel akin to an ex­pert af­ter a 90-minute tour of the three-storey tea fac­tory at the 530ha Nor­wood Es­tate in Bo­gawan­ta­lawa with man­ager and planter An­drew Tay­lor.

He says it’s al­ways women who do the pluck­ing, their deft fin­gers del­i­cately strip­ping the ortho­dox ‘‘two leaves and a bud’’ from the tip of each Camel­lia sinen­sis bush four times a month. The es­tate em­ploys about 650 pluck­ers who start at 7.45am, and their labour is the first step in a pre­cisely timed process that has changed re­mark­ably lit­tle since Tay­lor’s great-grand­fa­ther’s cousin, James Tay­lor, started the is­land’s tea in­dus­try in the 1860s af­ter ear­lier at­tempts at cof­fee grow­ing had failed due to rust blight.

His first seedlings, from As­sam, were planted at the Loole­con­dera Es­tate near Kandy, but it was Thomas Lip­ton whose name was to be­come in­di­vis­i­ble from Cey­lon tea. He bought his first es­tates in 1890 and cre­ated an em­pire amid some of the pret­ti­est hill coun­try imag­in­able.

Through­out our tour there’s an al­most me­dieval hum of ma­chin­ery and a herbal smell, as pun­gent as new-mown grass, in this high-ceilinged fac­tory and ware­house, built in 1934. Ev­ery­thing is lightly dusted and stained cop­pery with tea; we learn about the in­tri­ca­cies of rollers and ro­tor­vanes, of elec­tric stalk ex­trac­tors and tarry nip­pers, of vi­bro sifters and trinic sorters. We are told about fan­nings and how to best store tea (alu­minium lin­ing is crit­i­cal).

Tea is Sri Lanka’s most im­por­tant ex­port crop; bushes flush ev­ery seven or eight days and hand-sorted ‘‘tippy’’ grades such as flow­ery or­ange pekoe fetch high prices. It is still sold un­der the Cey­lon ban­ner. Like Bei­jing duck ver­sus Pek­ing duck, the tag Sri Lankan tea just has the wrong ring.

And note that the wry and schol­arly fourth-gen­er­a­tion ‘‘tea man’’ Tay­lor does not hold back giv­ing vis­i­tors his views on teabags.

The Nor­wood Es­tate fac­tory pro­duces Fair­trade tea and the en­joy­able and in­for­ma­tive morn­ing tour is free for guests at all Tea Trails bun­ga­lows.

Mean­time, at Kan­dap­ola, 14km from Nuwara Eliya and ‘‘six de­grees from the equa­tor’’, those vis­i­tors par­tial to a cuppa or two can sleep amid his­tory at the Her­i­tance Tea Fac­tory, a cor­ru­gate­d­iron five-storey build­ing that was once the pack­ing fa­cil­ity for Hether­sett plan­ta­tion, started by the won­der­fully named Wil­liam Flow­erdew in the 1870s.

The four-star ho­tel has been ac­corded a UNESCO her­itage award for sym­pa­thetic preser­va­tion and its in­te­rior is a trove of pul­leys, fans and driv­ing shafts; 57 gue­strooms, reached via a wire-cage lift that lum­bers up four open gal­leries, have been clev­erly con­verted from the with­er­ing lofts, with many orig­i­nal features in­tact. Guests are in­vited to pluck leaves from the es­tate and learn how to process tea. her­i­tance­ho­

above ‘Tea man’ An­drew Tay­lor be­low Her­i­tance Tea Fac­tory

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