My husband hates coffee, from smell to taste. Instead, he’s a big tea lover and whenever we get to a place with a strong tea tradition, we purchase supplies for a whole life. I, on the other hand, have no strong preference. I do drink coffee (to be more precise, milk with coffee) and although I would dare to say that I slightly prefer tea, I’m afraid my husband would strongly disagree. That’s because the teas I drink taste fruity and, when sweetened, there isn’t much left from the perfection imposed by the elaborate protocol of tea. However, I can say with no doubts whatsoever that I love tea plantations.
For who has not had the opportunity to yet see a tea plantation I will only say that they are unbelievably beautiful. Their intense green covers hills, terraces, and steep slopes, like a carpet weaved painstakingly and with great dedication. Several countries around the globe boast vast tea plantations and one of them is Sri Lanka, which occupies the 4th place in the world in tea production. A country that although it might not say much at first, will definitely remind you of one thing: the well-known Ceylon tea.
Of course, tea plantations have not always populated the highlands of Sri Lanka and it took many years for the tea to settle in the island’s culture. Positioned on the Indian Ocean, the island has attracted the interest of the major colonial powers, which controlled Sri Lanka at different stages, leaving their marks on the “Shining Island”.
The Portuguese came first and gave its toponym “Ceilao” (1505), transformed later by the British into Ceylon. Between the Portuguese and the British, the Dutch have made their way into the island and tried their luck with the cinnamon plantations. After the island fell under British control, the cinnamon plantations, at all cost, had to be replaced with the coffee. But this was not the right choice either. In 1870 coffee plantations were destroyed by a plague. In all these years there have been other attempts to acclimatize here different crops such as cocoa and cinchona, who failed in turn. James Taylor, a British farmer, is the one who in 1867 dared to try something else. That something was tea, whose production increased rapidly from year to year, getting to completely replace the late 1880’s coffee plantations.
Currently, one million residents are involved in the tea industry in Sri Lanka, and I warmly recommend you to visit this country and to enjoy the wonderful landscapes of tea plantations.
As expected, the British did not only introduced the plant itself but brought with them the entire tea ceremonial, so prized among elites on the old continent. So has developed Nuwara Eliya or “Little England”, a city in which the English were comfortably installed, where they built golf courses, polo or cricket clubs and established their fine manners, among which could not miss the “five o’clock tea “, so famous in the late nineteenth century.
We took ourselves a stop in Nuwara Eliya and we were fascinated by the beauty of this place. Bright green stretches everywhere the eye can see, and sometimes is interrupted by lakes with turquoise waters. And as if that were not enough, somewhere in the middle of this fairy-tale decor, atop a hillside, stands the Heritance Tea Factory Hotel. And, well, here is where I wanted to take you!
The name might trick you. Or not. It was once a tea factory. Today is a hotel. I do not believe there are many places in the world (if any) where you can accommodate yourself in a former tea factory and where you can handpick the leaves from the organic tea plantations that cover the slopes of the hotel’s surroundings.
Its story begins with the first tea plantation in Sri Lanka. In 1870 a small wood factory was built in Kandapola — Nuwara Eliya. It only lasted until the First World War, when it burned almost entirely. It was not until the mid-1930s that the construction of a new factory begun, which is not other than the hotel today. As a tea factory, it changed various owners and was kept in operation until 1973 when it was closed. Remained in disrepair for years, the tea factory has not attracted the interest of anyone. In 1992, one of the directors of Aitken Spence and Company Limited spotted the imposing building on top of the misty hills of Nuwara Eliya. And just like that, the idea of a hotel was born.
Unfortunately, we have not managed to book a room here; during the period we traveled the hotel was fully booked. To give you an idea, it only has 54 rooms, which are nothing but former warehouses and spaces in which the tea leaves were sorted out and left to dry. But because I wanted very much to visit the hotel and to enjoy its sights (which, some say, are the most beautiful in Sri Lanka), we stopped by and had a tea at Heritance Tea Factory.
I learned from one of the hotel managers that the establishment fully respects the original structure of the building and all the machines and tools are to be found in the museum of the hotel or, they were used for its interior design. The pallets used to once transport tea have now turned into furniture.
One of the former wagons where pallets of tea were loaded into, is today TCK 6685 Restaurant, where guests can dine, traveling back in time. The hotel is a delight, with hundreds of stories to tell, and the staff is extremely helpful. We have met here Chenuka, a young man studying Tourism and Hotel Management, who was lucky enough to have an internship at Heritance Tea Factory. He served us tea and cookies in the afternoon and told us about the different varieties of tea produced in the hotel’s factory. Obviously, we then went to visit it and we witnessed the entire operation, from sorting the tea leaves to their packaging.
It was hard to say goodbye to Heritance Tea Factory, where there were still many things to see and do. We have promised to come back here and start our day with a trip on one of the hills so beautifully dressed by the tea plantations. I recommend you to do the same thing, and if you arrive before us, I am waiting for your impressions and photos.