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. teatrails.com heritancehotels.com
above ‘Tea man’ Andrew Taylor below Heritance Tea Factory