One of the best things about visiting the beautiful island of Sri Lanka are all things tea. Ceylon tea hails from this tear shaped island and is well-known across the globe. Whether it’s visiting a tea plantation, shopping for some leaves to bring back home with you or simply sitting on your villa’s porch sipping the perfect cup of Ceylon’s finest, tea is bound to be one of the highlights of any visit to Sri Lanka.
History of Tea in Sri Lanka
Tea production in Sri Lanka was launched by the British colonisers in the begging of the 1800s. The Birtish brought the first tea plants over from China in the 1820s. The first tea was planted at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kandy, which remains a stunningly beautiful spot worth an Instagram photo or two.
It wasn’t until 1867, however, that the first tea plantation was established in Sri Lanka. James Taylor founded the first tea planation in Kandy and the rest, as they say, is history. Today, Sri Lanka is the third biggest producer of tea in the world, after China and Kenya. Tea is one of the country’s main exports and it also plays a key role in the Sri Lanka’s tourism industry.
Geography and Types of Tea in Sri Lanka
Kandy in central Sri Lanka remains the heart of the country’s tea production. In addition to the central province, tea is also grown in the south-eastern Uva Province and Southern Province. The tea is categorised according to where its grown: Upcountry, mid country or low country.
There are three types of Ceylon tea: black, green and white. The black variety is by far the most common of the three. Green Ceylon tea is only grown in the Uva Province.
The Famous White Tea
Ceylon white tea, also known as Virgin White Tea, is highly priced – literally. The tea is costs around USD $1,500 per kilo, making it one of the most expensive tea varieties in the world. White Ceylon tea is picked and processed without ever being touched by human hands, hence the name “virgin.” The tea used to be harvested by actual virgins, but today, pickers simply ware delicate gloves while collecting the leaves and the rest is left to the imagination! The tea’s royal pedigree can be traced back to the emperors of China, who used to be the only people allowed to drink it.
Visiting a Tea Plantation
One of the ways tourism and tea intersect in Sri Lanka are the ever-popular tea plantation tours. A plantation tour takes you through the tea fields and inside the production facilities, where you’ll be stunned by the antique-looking machinery still at work today. Naturally, the visit is finished off with a tasting of the finished product.
One of the most highly acclaimed tea plantations to visit is the Handunugoda Tea Estate in Tittagalla, located some 40 minutes outside of Galle Fort. A tour of the facory is followed by cake and a pot of tea by the owner’s bungalow. Trust us – you’ll never find a cup half as good as the tea in Sri Lanka. Handunugoda Tea Estate is one of the rare spots growing the rare White Virgin Tea. The best part? A tour of the Handunugoda Tea Estate is free of charge.
Handunugoda Tea Estate
Location: Tittagalla, Ahangama, Sri Lanka
When: Every day between 8am – 4:30pm
Trekking Through Tea Fields
If sipping a cup of tea on a shaded porch is not, well, your cup of tea, you can experience the plantations in a more active way by joining a trek. Several tour operators offer treks through the island’s lush rainforests and tea plantations, offering a stunning overview of Sri Lanka’s versatile beauty. Sri Lanka Trekking Club offers a Tea Trails walking tour, which lasts about 4-6 hour and takes you through some of the most beautiful tea plantations in Sri Lanka. The trek starts in Bandarawela and finishes in Haputale.
High Tea in Galle Fort
Though learning about tea and walking through fields of it can be great, nothing really beats settling down with a nice hot cuppa. For the most atmospheric experience possible, head for high tea in the UNESCO protected Galle Fort, which was originally built way back in 1588.
For the most indulgent cup of tea in Sri Lanka, head to Amangalla. The five-star hotel serves a gorgeous high tea featuring the finest Ceylon tea varieties along with sweet and savoury bites in the heart of Galle Fort. Or perhaps you prefer a more down to earth experience? National Tea Room is run by a sweet local couple, who will make you feel like part of the family. Don’t let the humble exterior fool you – the tea served here is fit for royalty.