Sunday, October 22, 2006
100% Pure Ceylon Tea
Day 4 we awoke and enjoyed the luxury of a terrace and cool early morning light.
We had a hearty Lankan breakfast of curry and roti with chillies and tea overlooking vast open beautiful LANKA.
After breakfast, feeling fortified and fresh, we decided to take a walk to a tea factory which came highly recommended by a good friend as being the REAL THING and not a tourist trap.
The cook, Stanley, wanted to know what time we'd return because lunch would be ready for us and we'd surely be hungry after our morning tea factory adventure. Everyone at the cottage agreed that we'd make it back by 1pm no problem. 3 hours.
We began our climb up the stony path to the "main" road. We stopped at the top of the driveway for a breather....3 hours huh? Phew....Right, let's mosey. We passed so much beauty. And tea pickers....even they were beautiful!
The road was wound upwards and hugged the sides of the manicured hills. We walked through small villages of tea pickers, mostly Tamil people, Hindus and Christians with their own unique culture. These people have much closer ties to India having been brought to Sri Lanka generations ago to work on the tea plantations. It was obviously not high season for tourists because we were solo nomads that morning. Every once in awhile a bus or truck would pass. The main road was very narrow so we'd have to step aside as the vehicles sped by at seriously insane speeds, inches from our wobbly knees!
Every once in awhile we'd hear a "Hello!" from the tea hedges above, "What's your name?" "Where you going?" and a tittering child would be hoping for dialogue with the strange foreigners below. We past a schoolyard of precious children all waving and hoping for a picture, "Hello! Picture? (giggle giggle giggle)"
Finally we made it to the factory. It was about 12 o'clock. There was no WAY we'd make it back by lunch time and Stanley (the cook) isn't someone you want on your bad side.....he might spit in your curry. I finally got a phone signal and called Ranjith, our minivan master driver and superhero rescuer. He said he'd pick us up at the factory at 12:50 and tell Stanley we'd be a few minutes late for lunch.
Sweet....on to the factory to see how tea goes from green to brown. We arrived at the factory with no obvious entrance....no tourist trap no kidding. We found a door and no one paid us mind...just went about their tea making. Finally, someone came and asked if we wanted a tour. We had the tour guide all to ourselves. We learned many things....We learned that the pickers look for tender new leaves on the tips of the hedges. Older tougher leaves are not as good.
Below you can see large tables (there were many tables row after row) with tea leaves. There were huge fans blowing air under these tables to dry the leaves. It smelled so sweet in this room....similar to the smell of hay in a barn.
There were several steps including grinding the dried leaves over and over to the right consistency:
There was tea for export which was coarser and makes less strong tea but it's very high quality. Then there is domestic tea which is ground much finer into a powder and makes very strong tea. Below is domestic tea being scooped into bags for the market auctions:
The time was 12:50 and Ranjith pulled up just as Sara began sneezing and weezing from the powder which she had managed to sniff and whiff and blink up causing a minor waterworks session. Ranjith chalked it up to an emotional factory experience.
Leo was a happy fish about being able to coast along in the minivan down down down the hills to Kelburne and a sweet Lankan feast of rice and curry for lunch. Zach and I were pretty happy too.
Day 3 continued with good eats, a nap, reading on the terrace, a frisbee session while the sun began to set and dusk with binos watching exotic birds dip and dive, the moonrise, and misty blue violet layered hills disappear as the crimson sky darkened to black.
It got COLD as the sun set.
We went into the cottage to find Karnan stoking a fire in the fireplace. Oooh-oh-ohhhh, what sweet heaven on earth for a Michigan girl to enjoy fire in the fireplace in October.
We listened to music, journaled, doodled, and chatted by the fire. The table was set with care by our friend Karnan who picked and set a different flower blossom for each of us at each meal, made fancy shapes with napkins, and humbled us with his politeness and attentiveness. We bowed back and forth to each other like fellow kings and queen. Dinner was served at 8 with candles on the wall and table, new flowers, new napkin shapes, and heaps of spicy yummy food. We fed ourselves with our hands. We ate quietly and thankfully and told Karnan a million times thank you and his beaming smile made us even more thankful.
Then.....bellies full, bodies tired, faces fresh and sunkissed, we fell asleep dreaming of the beaches of Hikkaduwa~~