When it comes to making a cup of tea, there are not many places more glamorous in which to do so than in the lush, green hill country of Sri Lanka, and also get the chance to take a Sri Lanka Tea Plantation Tour. When a tea factory, established during the grand days of the British Raj, was damaged by fire, a new one was built among the tea bushes. It is this former tea factory that has been converted into a cosy, colonial-style hotel set deep in the countryside — the Heritance Tea Factory.
Nestled within the panoramic landscapes of the city of Nuwara Eliya, the hotel is located in a region famed for its tea production and a country that is world famous for its brews. After all, this is an island nation whose former moniker — Ceylon — is one of the most popular brands of tea in the world today.
Time for tea — Take a Sri Lanka Tea Plantation Tour
The traditions of my British homeland clearly resonate deep within my heart as I consider tea to be my lifeblood. Therefore the idea of travelling while incorporating tea and all of its magic within the journey — it doesn’t get much better than that.
True to form, the Heritance Tea Factory offers a truly outstanding way in which to enjoy the nation’s brews. The tea experience at the hotel comes in many forms, with the most popular being the tea picking process where you can pluck your brew from the fields and see it all the way through to the first taste.
Accompanied by professional tea pluckers and decked out in traditional local attire — that’s sarees for the women and sarongs for the men — you will be taken deep into the tea fields for an immersive experience. The hotel has a 25-acre organic plantation and it is here, surrounded by the lush Sri Lankan plantations, that the professionals will give you a Sri Lanka Tea Plantation tour and demonstration on how to choose the best leaves and pick them so that they fall directly into your basket.
The serene landscapes are not only a beautiful to breathe in the smells of the natural world but are also crucial to the tea harvest. In Sri Lanka, tea is classified according to the altitude at which it is grown, with all the tea brewed at the hotel falling into the high-grown teas category; those types that are grown at more than 1,200 metres above sea level. As you pluck your leaves, you will learn all about the different kinds you can see — the smaller the leaves, the stronger the flavour. As all hotel guests can take their tea home with them, feel free to tell the professionals about your preference of taste but this is also an enchanting place to experience the many different varieties of tea available.
Tea with the experts
After you have picked your leaves, you will be taken to the Mini Tea Factory to meet Nadaraj, the hotel’s chief tea taster. With more than half a century’s experience working on the tea plantation, his taste and knowledge of tea and the production process is second to none. He is the one responsible for sifting through the leaves that are picked by the professionals from the plantation every day — a minimum of 15 kilograms each — and to reject any leaves that are not up to scratch. A man who recognises quality, he started as a trainee on the site’s tea plantation in 1965 when ‘there were no cars, only bullock carts for transporting the tea.’ Over the years, he has had first-hand experience in every step of the tea-making process.
Nadaraj will take you around the factory to explain every step of the manufacturing process; that’s plucking, harvesting, withering — where the plucked tea is left out on special racks to allow the moisture to evaporate, and rolling — where pressure is applied to produce juices and bring out the unique flavour of each brew. He will also explain the fermentation process — where the tea will develop its bright, coppery, golden colour typical of high-grown teas — and the drying process, as well as showing you how the teas are sorted into different sizes, before being tasted, blended and packed up.
After all that, surely the thing you will want most is a cup of tea fresh off the plantation, and funnily enough that’s exactly what you will be given. If there’s anyone in the world you will want to experience this with, it’s Nadaraj, as his taste for tea is unparalleled. He can tell from just a few sips of tea how high the crop was grown, how long it has been since it was picked and even whether it was dried properly. This is a man who takes his job seriously and he does not smoke or eat hot curries to keep his taste buds tip-top.
What’s your flavour?
With Nadaraj by your side, you will be guided through a variety of tea tastings. Among a selection of different colours, strengths and flavours, you will sample the medium-strength broken orange pekoe (Nadaraj’s favourite) – a zesty blend with medium particles, the delicate flowery pekoe and the pekoe, which is light, mild and refreshing. The factory also produces green tea by steaming the fresh leaves and then taking it through the same process as the black tea but without fermentation.
The tasting experience doesn’t stop there, as the hotel itself offers an incredible array of exotic, tea-infused dishes. The high-tea experience can be enjoyed on the terrace, within the topiary gardens or the Goatfell Bar — the specialist tea bar that offers more than 20 different types of tea. The experience includes a pot of homegrown tea: choose from light (pekoe) medium (broken orange pekoe) or high strength (broken orange pekoe fannings). The latter is best served with milk and is a dark, strong, uplifting cup of tea that tastes similar to English Breakfast.
For something a bit different, you can ask for green tea to accompany your meal. The tea comes accompanied by samosas, finger sandwiches and scones, as well as fruit tarts and cookies. The Mini Tea Factory produces around 25 kilogrammes of black tea every day, so feel free to drink to your heart’s content!
If you fancy sampling the hotel’s tea-infused dishes, there is a range of options. The a la carte menu includes appetisers and soups such as Smoked Chicken Salad with Tea Vinaigrette, and Cream of Cauliflower & Tea Soup. For a main dish, try the Tea & Coconut Crusted Baked Mullet Supreme or the Chargrilled Farm Chicken with Mushroom Ragout & Tea Cream. Make sure to leave space for dessert, where you can choose either the Rhubarb Crumble Tart with Tea Sabayon or the Hethersett Tea Mousse in Tulip with Seasonal Berries.
Then we have the drinks. Cocktails, mocktails, fancy teas… they’re all on offer and all come with delicious tea-based recipes. On the non-alcohol side of things, there’s the Tea Milk Shake, which blends high strength tea with vanilla ice cream. If you fancy something lighter, there’s the Hethersett Fogg mocktail — a blended mix of tea, lime juice, Angostura bitter and lemonade, or the sweet Tea Mocktail (strong tea, apple juice and cola – perfect for the little ones) and Flower Dew, which combines strong tea, passion cordial and soda.
For something stronger and even more wonderful tea adventures, try one of the hotel’s tea-based cocktails. Exotic offerings include the 6800 Feet & Above, where arrack, narikela coconut, orange cordial, caramel syrup and fresh cream are shaken up with black tea. The Kandapola Mist offers another taste of the local flavour with a shaken mix of local whisky, crème de banana, vanilla ice cream, black tea and sugar syrup. Tea Factory Queen is one for those who like to be really adventurous, combining local dark rum and strong tea with narikela coconut, passion cordial, strawberry and sugar syrups and coca cola. Finally, the Planters Punch fuses a number of strong flavours with its mix of brandy, Galliano, ginger tea, cinnamon or cardamom and sugar syrup.
A wonderful place to stay
A stay at the Heritance Tea Factory is a dream for tea lovers around the world and a place that is sure to ignite a passion for the esteemed drink in every single one of us. The hotel retains prominent features of its former life as a tea factory in the windows and woodwork, with gorgeous detail including giant brass-capped wooden fans — used when the bedrooms acted as withering lofts during the tea making process — and the former engine room converted into a modern kitchen.
While we cannot promise you can take the lush organic plantations away with you, the hotel will pack up your very own tea blend to accompany you back home. That way, you can enjoy the taste of Nuwara Eliya from wherever you are in the world, with a fragrant blend that will evoke the fondest of memories.