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Would You Like A Cup of Sri Lankan Tea?

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Have you ever wondered where your cup of tea comes from, and how it is produced? Welcome to Sri Lanka`s Hill Country, home of the famous Lipton tea! Or maybe you know Sri Lankan tea as “Ceylon Tea”, as it is branded internationally.

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Tea History

Tea first came to Sri Lanka in 1824, for a botanical exhibit, planted by the British. At that time, nobody had any idea what kind of impact the introduction of this plant would have to Sri Lanka.

The real tea production began in 1867 after the disease had destroyed a lot of the coffee plantations on the island. British plantation owners soon found out that the Hill Country`s climate, high altitude, and hillsides were perfect for tea growing.

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Sri Lankan tea soon became more and more popular in London and the rest of tea-drinking Britain, making tea production spiral upwards. The early growers obviously managed to do something smart with their branding, as almost everybody worldwide has heard of Lipton Tea!

Tea is BIG business today

Sri Lanka was in 2008 the second most important tea producing country in the world, producing 330 million kilograms each year! Today it is no. 4. Pretty amazing for such a small country if you ask me!

On all the walks we did around Ella, we walked through huge fields of tea plants! There were lush and green tea plants as far as the eye could see. It was like being surrounded by a green sea of tea! So beautiful!

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Sri Lankan tea is considered better quality and is, therefore, more expensive than tea from India, the world’s market leader within tea production. The Sri Lankan tea crop is valued at 1 billion US$ yearly, roughly 15% of the country`s economy.

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Today the tea industry in Sri Lanka gives work to more than one million people, about 5% of the entire population, so it is important for the people of Sri Lanka.

The tea pickers’ wages are very low, though, only around 3 US$ each day. It is expected that each of them harvest a minimum of 20 kg of leaves per day. Wow, that is a lot of tea leaves per day!

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When the British tea owners started tea production in Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese did not want to work in the tea plantations. So the British brought a huge amount of Tamils from India. Even today most tea workers are Tamils.

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The tea plantations cover approximately 1900 km² of Sri Lanka, primarily in the Hill Country where the growing conditions are best.

On our walks, we met a lot of tea pickers, mainly Tamil women, but also some men. They were moving elegantly through the rows of tea bushes picking the leaves and buds at an impressive speed!

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Types of Tea

Besides producing various types of black tea, Sri Lanka also produces green tea and white tea. From our walking

From our walking guide, we learned that the tea pickers pick the entire green leaf of the tree, but only the smallest and freshest tea leaves on top of the branch becomes white tea. The rest becomes green or black tea. That explains why white tea is more expensive than green and black tea.

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This small tip of the plant, is all that will be used for white tea.

They also pick tea flowers, which give a particular flavour to the tea, like the one our guide is showing here.

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Visiting a Tea Factory and Buying Tea

We visited one of the tea factories in Ella, Newburgh Green Tea Factory. The tour cost 250 rupees and lasted about half an hour. The Newburgh estate is more than 100 years old, established in 1884, and the factory in 1903.

On the tour, we were shown the whole production process. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take photos inside the factory, but I will try to explain what we saw and learned.

Inside the factory, tea leaves were spread out on mats on the floor, in huge piles. First, the leaves were de-moisturized by blowing air through them at a fixed temperature in a huge and noisy machine. The partly dried leaves were then crushed, and more heat was added to the leaves, making them turn coppery brown. With even more heat they became black/ brown, as we are used to seeing the tea.

From the tea leaves are picked, till they are processed and placed in bags for shipping, it takes around 24 hours. There is a definite art to the whole tea producing process, which has been refined and evolved over the decades, making tea what it is today.

We also learned that tea is graded by size and quality, from cheap dust until more expensive leaf tea. The whole leaves are best, and the young tips are the very best. Tea grading doesn’t stop there, oh no, it is also categorized into low-grown (under 600 m), mid-grown and high-grown (over 1200m). The low-grown is apparently high in body but low in flavor, and the high-grown are more slowly grown and have more flavor. Well, that kind of makes sense or?

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Y.O.P. 1888 = Year of planting 1888

I also bought some green tea in the factory and have a cup each morning on our travel. It tastes really good! A pack of 200 g cost 200 Sri Lankan Rupees.

On the tour, we were given a cup of tea and a pamphlet mentioning all the health benefits of green tea.

There are a lot of benefits from a cup of green tea, which can help with/ prevent: Weight loss, Diabetes, Heart disease, Oesophageal cancer, Cholesterol, Tooth decay, Bloody pressure, Depression, Skincare and Anti-viral and Anti-bacterial! So drink more green tea, you guys! 🙂

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I really love tea, and drink it every day, as I don`t like coffee. It was very fun and interesting for me to learn and see how tea is grown and produced! I also enjoyed meeting the tea pickers on our hikes.


Where To Stay In Ella

Ella has mostly small family-run guesthouses but also a few higher-end boutique hotels. The recent popularity surge means that there is no shortage of accommodation options for any budget. Below are some of the best accommodation options in Ella, including their address and price, starting with the place we called home for 7 nights.

We stayed at Ravana Heights
Accommodation in Ella, Sri LankaBy chance, we ended up at Ravana Heights and while we had originally intended to stay two nights we ended up staying for a full week. We especially enjoyed the new big and comfortable superior rooms with stunning views from the balcony. The location is excellent, you're just a short walk away from the main street of Ella with shops and restaurants.

The food at this hotel is fantastic! The breakfast is served on the terrace, with spectacular views over the Ella valley, mountains, and tea plantations. You are served pancakes, eggs, bread, jams, tea/coffee, juice, fruits, basically everything a good breakfast should have.

And the dinner, oh the dinner is delicious! The best food we have had in Sri Lanka, maybe the whole of Asia! It cost $15 and consists of several different tasty dishes including dessert. The dinner varies from day to day and is a fusion of Thai and Sri Lankan.

The owner Senadhi speaks perfect English (he studied at the London School of Economics). He is a great character and really makes you feel at home at Ravana Heights. He can also organize walks for you, with or without a guide, and will draw maps of hiking routes for you. We did two walks with a guide, and one without a guide. The other staff are also very sweet and couldn't do enough for us.
Click here to check the latest prices

Boutique hotels

Planters Bungalow Ella
An old converted tea planters bungalow located in a very peaceful and relaxing setting away from town. It's also one of the very few places around Ella that have a swimming pool to enjoy after a day of hiking. They have rooms set in the newly refurbished colonial bungalow as well as apartment-style rooms in a new building. Rooms are very comfortable and no two are alike. The staff is super friendly and the Sri Lankan style breakfast is very tasty. There is a $15 set dinner menu that changes every evening. It’s a great choice if you like a place to relax and enjoy the scenery and don’t mind being 20 minutes' drive away from the touristy and busy Ella town.
Click here to check the latest prices

Zion View Ella
The rooms here have floor to ceiling windows that truly let you admire the awe-inspiring view in all its's majesty. The rooms are cozy, well maintained and clean, with comfortable beds and hot water showers. Every room has a balcony with chairs for relaxing as well as a hammock. Wi-Fi is free and surprisingly fast. Despite being just a six-minute walk from Ella center, it's a quiet and relaxing place. Breakfast is plentiful and very tasty. It's a popular choice with families and there is a children's play area with toys.
Click here to check the latest prices

Guesthouses

La Montagna Resort
This is a new small hotel located a ten-minute tuk-tuk ride away from the city center. It has 3 large and spotlessly clean rooms with hot water showers and spectacular views overlooking the Ella gap. The service can rival any five-star hotel and the excellent breakfast is served on your balcony. It is free in-room Wi-Fi.
Click here to check the latest prices

Ella Guest Inn
If you want a place centrally located and close to the train station then this is an excellent alternative. It’s just a five-minute walk away from the station and two minutes from Ella center with its shops and restaurants. Standard rooms are in the old section and are a little small and worn down but the newly built rooms (2017) are very nice and spacious so it is definitely worth upgrading to a new superior room. It’s family-run and the owners are very friendly and helpful.
Click here to check the latest prices

Leisure Dream Inn
This family-run place is very popular so reserve your room early! The view is spectacular and the rooms are well furnished, clean and comfortable with hot water showers, fridge, cable TV and free Wi-Fi. The three brothers that run it are super friendly, and the mother cooks a delicious breakfast served on the terrace. It’s located on a quiet hill about 10 minutes walk from Ella Town. All in all, its fantastic value for money!
Click here to check the latest prices

Chamodya Home Stay
Basic but large and clean rooms with amazing views make this a popular budget homestay option. Breakfast is good and they serve delicious rice & curry dinner. Location is a 15-minute walk away from the city center.
Click here to check the latest prices


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Have you ever tried Sri Lankan tea? Maybe their famous Lipton Tea, or Dilmah? Would love to hear what kind of tea you like the most in the comment area below! If you like this blog post, and find it useful, please share and like it on social media! Thank you so much! 🙂

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Written by Maria Wulff Hauglann

Maria is a Norwegian travel nerd who has explored more than thirty countries on four continents. She holds a master's degree in Computer Science, as well as an MBA. In 2014 while on a year-long trip across South East- Asia, Maria co-founded the travel blog Nerd Nomads to help others get out and explore the world. In 2018 she left her day job permanently for a life of full-time travel. See our about page for more about Maria.

4 Comments

  1. We haven’t been to Sri Lanka yet but it looks amazing! Lovely photos as well!
    If you guys like photography, we would like to invite you to participate in the next edition of our Travel Photography Competition. Every week we publish 3 winning shots on our website and write a nice bio with a link to the photographers’ websites/FB/Flickr pages.
    Find more details here: http://hitchhikershandbook.com/your-contributions/travel-photography/
    Happy travels!

    Reply
    • Sri Lanka was awesome! It’s a small island but so packed with amazing things to see and do. Will definitely be going back there soon. Thank you for commenting on our photos! We love photography, and will for sure enter your contest 🙂

      Reply
  2. Hi Maria,
    Lovely article.Infact tomorrow we are heading to srilanka and ela is part of our travel.This article was informative and helpful for our travel.Keep blogging . 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Vinayak,

      Thank you so much for your nice comment! Have a great trip to Sri Lanka and Ella! I`m sure you will love it just as much as we do.

      Cheers,
      Maria

      Reply

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