Tea Picking in Sri Lanka

I was handed a small basket and headed to some nearby bushes to pick tea.

“Only pick leaves joined to another. And young leaves.” I looked through these bushes for suitable leaves, finding some here, some there. So how did tea pickers manage to find 25 kilos of tea leaves each day? They must work at a significant speed.

Sure enough, one of the pickers came up to me, looked in my basket and rolled her eyes in disgust. The next thing I knew, a handful of good leaves were pushed into my basket to help. I would never survive this life- and the pickers are paid just £6 a day after spending 8 hours in the fields.

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Tea Picker, Sri Lanka

Tea was introduced to Sri Lanka by the British in 1865. Today 1.5 million people work in the tea industry and Sri Lanka exports 350 million kilos of tea each year. Three types of tea are produced: black tea, white tea, and green tea. Even today this is known as Ceylon Tea.The tea factories do not produce for any specific brand but their produce is sent to the tea auctions in Colombo. There, the tea is tasted and blended to form brands. It is then exported. Upcountry tea is grown above 1000m and is the best quality.

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Tea Basket, Sri Lanka

The tea factory where the leaves are dried and processed looked like something from the Edwardian era. There were huge drying troughs where the leaves are place to dry for up to 18 hours. Every 6 hours a turner turns over the leaves.

Then tea rollers press the tea and can support 250kg of tea at a time. After the first roll only the unbroken leaves are accepted and filtered out. These are used to make light teas. The second and subsequent rolls produce darker tea. The leaves then ferment for 2.5 hours. When I looked closer at the tea roller I noticed it was 115 years old and clearly built to last.

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Tea Factory, Sri Lanka

Tea is then graded into different types. Orange pekoe is the lighter tea whereas the tea referred to as “dust” ends up in tea bags. I spent time sipping a cup of tea from the estate. I’m not normally a tea drinker but this was divine.

 

Read more about my travels in Sri Lanka here, and my coffee picking experience in Colombia here.

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