Sri Lanka 9th day - Tea in Hatton - Mon 16 Jan 2017

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January 16th 2017
Published: March 1st 2017
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That night we were kept awake by the dogs in one village talking to the dogs in the other villages. They kept up their conversation until day break. Along with this was the buzz of the mosquito which woke me up from my broken sleep at 3 am. There was no phone in the room nor tea making facilities and so we had to phone Keith on our own mobile for morning coffee. We were the only guests and so we had our own chef. The food was superb - string hoppers for breakfast and spicy curries but I was already seriously bitten and the three of us had not slept so we sent a Whatsapp to Jagath to ask him to move us sooner than scheduled.

We had a late-ish start to a tea plantation. We passed the largest tank (reservoir) where the water had been dammed for hydroelectric power. This meant that villages had to be evacuated and so new and modern towns had been built. It was interesting to note that most of the workers are Tamils. We had passed bunting of green and blue in various places and these represented political parties. Here the bunting was yellow which represented not only a political party but also the tea workers' trade union colours. We were to pass green bunting which was the same, red which was erected in towns to highlight a celebration and white to notify of a funeral.

We could see in the distance Adam’s Peak and we learned that pilgrims go there to see a footprint which is alleged to be the footprint of Buddha at the top. Various writings refer to four such footprints, including one which could be found at Mecca.

We stopped at a photograph site to take a picture of the Devon Falls. This is 318 feet (97m) high. There was a drought in Sri Lanka at the time of our visit and so the falls were maybe not so wide as they should have been, but they were still impressive. Growing along the road were the kittel palms which the elephants love. It is interesting to see that the flowers start growing at the top and grow down, whereas in most other trees the flowers grow upwards.

Continuing on the road we passed St Clair's Falls, a cascade 260 feet (80m) high. Here the lack of water was even more obvious. Basil pointed out that since Sri Lanka generates most of its power by hydroelectricity, when there is a drought not only do they suffer about the water but they have power cuts too!

Aside from the photo pauses, our first stop was Tea Castle in St Clair. This was for a loo stop but also to see the tea museum and to take pictures of the ginormous tea samovar erected at its entrance. We learnt in the tea shop that the correct way to make tea is to warm the pot, to add boiling water to the leaves and to leave it for five minutes to infuse. Then milk is poured first (hot milk) followed by the tea and finally the sugar. It is permissible to leave the tea leaves in an air-tight tin in the fridge.

The plantation we visited was Craigie Lea Tea Factory. It was in a village at the end of a side road. As today was a religious holiday the plantation was running with a skeleton staff who were carrying out maintenance. This was lucky as instead of hundreds of workers operating noisy machinery, we could ask lots of questions of the manager who took us around on our private tour and tested each machine to explain and show us how it worked.

Outside the factory we saw the tea leaves growing. They are picked from the top where the light green leaves are picked. The darker mature leaves are left on the tree to bush it out. The harvest occurs every seven days all year round. Then the leaves are sent to the first floor of the building to be dried in a big trough. The trough runs the whole length of the building. The trough shakes the leaves which in the rainy season can take 15 hours to dry but with powerful fans a mere 2.5 hours. The tea is then moved manually into a chute which takes the tea downstairs to a press. 275 kg of tea is placed in each press. Of the 5,000 kg pressed in each shift only 1,250 kg end up as tea. Then it goes to be rolled for 50 minutes. The leaf is chopped into very small pieces three times. It is sent to a machine to sort it by size. After three hours it ferments and it is dried at the temperature of 275 degrees Fahrenheit (135 Celsius). It is then separated into sizes, packed and is transported to the auction house in Colombo.

All of the tea is sold by auction in Sri Lanka to wholesalers. We were surprised at the amount of manual labour involved in the tea factory. There is very little automation. We were lucky that all the machines were not running together but each machine was started for us so that we could see the processes. Even so it seemed very noisy so what it must be like during the day when the factory is in full production is beyond comprehension.

We were then invited to taste the tea. Caroline was our official tea taster! Whilst in the office we noticed a sign which showed that the last accident that occurred in the factory was just a minor one on 3 April 2016 and the date of our visit was 16 January 2017 so that seems a pretty good safety record.

We went back to Castlereigh and were delighted to hear that we were moving to Colombo the next day, earlier than our itinerary schedule. However, that night we were again plagued by the mosquitoes. This led us to greatly appreciate the concept of a bed under a mosquito tent, which we suggested to Keith they should have.

That afternoon Caroline and Don walked part way around the lake by Castlereigh, wandering the lanes between tea plants. They had spotted what appeared to be an island. Upon closer investigation they found an isthmus connecting the almost-island to the mainland. Having meandered down, now they had to climb all the way back up to road level in order to return to our cottages.

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