You will find the island of Sri Lanka in South Asia, located southeast of India. The documented history of the island goes 3,000 years back. However, some historians point to first evidence of pre-historic settlements from approximately 125,000 years ago.
Nowadays, most of the population consist of Sinhalese ethnicity, with Tamilis, Christians, Moors, Burghers, Malays, Chinese and the aboriginal Vedda adding its culture to Sri Lanka’s ethnical landscape. This makes the country is a wonderful mix of several cultures, languages and ethnicities.
Sri Lanka has a rich cultural heritage, including the first known Buddhist writings dating back to 29 BC. Also, the geographical location of the island and its harbours make it of a strategic importance from the ancient times of Silk Road to modern Maritime Silk Road.
The interesting note is that Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon from the beginning of British Colonial rule till 1972.
I came to this wonderful country for a yoga retreat organized by a friend of mine. We stayed in Central Province, in a place called Jim’s Farm Villas. The place is located on the hills surrounded by small villages and lush forests. It was a perfect place to spend 10 days with 5 hours of morning and evening yoga, sounds of forests and bells of nearby Buddhist temples. The only part that took me by surprise was a rather noisy squirrel trying to scratch its way through the roof for three nights.
Jim’s Farm Villas is “self-sufficient” farm. That means that everything prepared in the kitchen is grown on the farm. Each day the chef prepared us feasts for breakfasts and dinners, causing our taste buds to go crazy. The range of spices, freshness of fruits, and vegetables was amazing.
Before I came to Sri Lanka I had thought that the food there would be similar to the India cuisine. The Sri Lankan food is spicier, less heavy, the range of spices is wider and there are many more varieties of local foods. For the first time in my life I ate fish samosas, egg samosas and mixed veggies samosas so spicy and hot that my eyes started to water. I love hot and spicy food, and Sri Lanka felt like home for my taste buds.
If you ever visit this wonderful island, make sure that you order “egg hoppers” for breakfast. It is not the lightest kind of food, especially in the morning, but it is a must to have it at least once. The version I had for late breakfast after nearly 3hour yoga session, was like a savory crepe with a soft-boiled egg in one, and rice noodles in the other. To accompany this culinary fiesta, our chef prepared a yellow curry to add on top of the noodles and crepes. Needless to say, we all needed a long rest after.
Yoga was not the only reason I travelled for several hours to Sri Lanka. Tea was the other purpose of my trip as I am an avid tea drinker of tea. What morning coffee is for coffee geeks, a mug of black tea is for me.
Tea production is one of the main sources of foreign exchange in Sri Lanka. In 1995 this island was the biggest exporter of tea in the world, but Kenya has surpassed it since. Currently, Sri Lanka is the fourth largest producer of tea in the world. Tea industry was introduced to the island by a British planter, James Taylor, who arrived there in 1852.
The humidity, cool temperatures and rainfalls in the central parts of the island create an ideal climate for the production of tea of the highest quality. On the other hand, the tea varieties from the lower altitude with warmer temperatures and still high rainfalls, have a high level of properties of astringent (a chemical that shrinks o constricts body tissue; it derives from Latin word, that means “to bind fast”).
The tea in Sri Lanka is cultivated in a way where the bushes are planted in lines along the contours of the land, usually on the slopes. Generally, two leaves and a bud, which have a flower and an aroma, are picked up, usually by women. Women make up 75-85% of the work force in the tea industry. With the years of experience, women can manually pick up to 15-20kg of tea leaves a day.
After the tea leaves are picked up, it is transported to the nearby factory. First, the new batch of tea leaves is weighted and monitored in the muster sheds, to be then moved to the factories to be spread in troughs. This is the withering process and is done to remove the excess weight on the leave. Once the leaves are withered, then they are rolled, twisted and parted.
Leaves are then rolled by a rotating cylinder. Once this process is over, the tea leaves are left to ferment. The regulation of the temperature and the humidity in this process is very important and requires a lot of attention. Failure to do so causes the tea to lose its aromas.
The last part of the tea production process is grading: Leaves are sorted into different shapes and sizes by sifting them through meshes. No artificial preservatives are added at any stage of the manufacturing process. To finalize the process, the tea is weighed and packed into tea chest or paper sacks and then given to a close inspection.
Sri Lanka manufactures three kinds of tea, with a Ceylon Black tea being one of the specialties of the country, and my personal favourite. This tea is crisp in the aroma and taste, and is best served in a big mug with additional of a honey. At least this is the way I have it every morning.
Ceylon white tea, or also known as “silver tips”, is a tea of a delicate and very light structure, with taste notes of pine and honey infusion. This kind of tea is grown, harvested and rolled by hand with the leaves dried and withered in the sun.
The other kind of Ceylon tea, a green tea, is mainly made from Assamese tea stock. This tea generally has a fuller body and rather malty with nutty flavor, parted by the Assamese seed stock. What differentiates Ceylon green tea from the Chinese green tea is that the latter has its own characteristic darker i leaf and is richer in the flavour.
We had visited the tea factory in the Central Province. I love my tea, but this was the first time I saw the entire process of tea manufacturing from up-close. The process is not a difficult one, but it does take time to produce a high-quality tea.
The aroma of the tea leaves was very strong and amazing in each room of the factory, and I could not wait to sit at the end of the tour and try different variations of this local tea. Not to mention, I ended up with almost 2 kg of black tea packed neatly by the ladies working in a shop by the tea factory.
Few months after the visit there, the smell of tea leaves still lingers in my kitchen every morning, when the Ceylon black tea is being brewed. I, then, sit on the sofa, wearing my pj’s, and slowly sip my tea waiting for my day to begin.