Two leaves and a bud (Nuwara Eliya, Sri Lanka)

The magical formula of ‘two leaves and a bud’ has put the scenic and splendid picturesque town of Nuwara Eliya in the map of World’s finest and cleanest tea producing region. Nu rel iya or Nuwara Eliya, meaning ‘City of Lights’ is perhaps the most verdant hillsides of Sri Lanka. Located at a height of around 1900 m above sea level, Nuwara Eliya is more reminiscent of the days of the English tea planters than any other places in the pretty evergreen country. The English established great tea gardens in this highest elevation tea-growing region in Sri Lanka over 100 years ago.

Located at about 180 km from Colombo, it takes a full day to drive the narrow winding road up into the highlands of Nuwara Eliya. And what a difference in environment did we get! The craziness of the city was far away and the beauty of the countryside was absolutely picture perfect. Small enough to explore on foot within a few hours, the town is dotted with sloping tea plantations, some stretching right into the outskirts of town and with its numerous British-built country mansions, and a special charm of its own. Driving through the town and climbing the hill, we regularly crossed a few interesting architectures. The road then follows the line of the valleys steadily downwards with many sharp bends.

Behind these roads begin the tea plantations, which continue for many miles. Each with it’s own board and directions. The tea estates and their adjoining factories themselves are a picturesque sight; miles of evergreen slopes stretching up to the sky and decorated with colourful tealeaf pluckers is an ideal combination of colours. On the way to Kandapola, the tea estate of Pedro organizes tea garden visits and of course a tea break in the tea house overlooking the magnificently green and manicured gardens. Tours are held in the mornings and in the afternoons with a 2-hour lunch break. No one knew whether the tea estate had its name from Mt. Pedro, the tallest mountain in Sri Lanka. At this high elevation the tea garden of Pedro enjoyed cooler climates, misty conditions with even rainfall and light sunshine, which produced an aromatic, wonderful tea that was often compared with the best of Darjeeling. That made me a bit proud! So we get to the Pedro Tea Estate and Factory,  Rs 50 per person to take a look inside the factory for 30 minutes. It was very interesting. the leaves of the tea plant called Camilla can grow to a height of ten meters, but to improve the harvesting of the leaves, it is regularly trimmed to the size of a shrub. Every 3-4 years they are cut even lower to extend their life span.

The most difficult and artistic job is to ‘pluck’ the leaf correctly. The more delicately picked tea is said to be of the highest quality. There are normally two shifts of tea picking; after the morning shift, tea pickers bring their load of leaves to be weighed. Each large plantation has its own factory where the leaves are first dried in the open air for about 24 hours. Then they are rolled and crushed, initiating the fermentation process of the tannin in the leaves. To complete the fermentation, the leaves are spread out on drying racks, which are located in a well-aired, humid and cool room for about 2 hours and finally dried in a special oven, sieved and packed to deliver a wonderful aromatic cup of tea.  Even though I was more or less informed about the tea cultivation earlier, there were a few things involved that I did not know. For e.g. I wasn’t aware of the fact that about 12 different types and grades of tea could be produced from one type of tea bush. In this tea estate, the freshly picked tea was processed in hygienic conditions, using modern machineries, and the quality of the tea that they produced was really good.

The rich brown leaves flecked with green and gold, the flowery Orange Pekoe selection had the smoothness of a great Ceylonese tea. Among the world's greatest black teas, this tea has a delicious aroma. Suggestion was, ‘Do not add milk or sugar - drink it straight and hot.’ Out of the garden and factory scenario we headed towards the tea house for a strong black variety of Orange Pekoe, the long, thin, wiry leaves, which sometimes contain yellow tip or bud leaf, the most well known variety of Ceylonese tea. By now we were quite enamoured with our favourite tea plant and during the rest of our stay, the tiny evergreens kept giving us enormous joy with a daily sighting of “two leaves and a bud.”