I was up early to grab some local footage, after all we were in Nuwara Elya, the heart of Sri Lankan tea country. Of course I shot the grounds at the Grand Hotel, their beauty couldn't be ignored, but I also wandered down the road to the round-a-bout where tuk tuks jockeyed for position and a beautiful Stupa caught the early morning sun. It was going to be a beautiful day.
Yesterday had been black orthodox, today was going to be green tea. My crash course in tea was beginning to pay off. Through Dilmah's introduction at their head office and the tour of the Dunkeld Estate I was now familiar with the basics, plucking, withering, rolling, fermentation, firing, sifting, and packaging were all terms that made sense. Green tea goes through much of the same process, except fermentation. The leaves come from the same bushes, and they're plucked in the same manner, but where black orthodox tea is allowed a fermentation process, the leaves for green tea are zapped with steam at the beginning to stop that same process. That is the fundamental difference between black and green, fermentation vs lack of fermentation.
When time came we boarded our eleven mini buses and headed for the Park Estate factory, and speaking of factories, there is a continuity between them that I found comforting. Just like the ubiquitous tobacco kilns in southern Ontario, Canada, indicated you were in tobacco country, the tea factories of Sri Lanka indicated you were in the heart of another industry, tea. They stood long and proud and the moment one appeared it was guaranteed that a short distance away pluckers would be plucking. On our drive up we passed numerous small towns that dotted the fertile landscape and I was surprised to see so many Sri Lankan's out tending their crops, and not tea crops either. There were all sorts of offerings in play and I couldn't help notice the symmetry within the fields. It was obvious there was a lot of pride in the work and the fields echoed the tea factory architecture with a definite structure present.
We arrived at Park Estate to a great welcome. This time however, there was no time with pluckers in the fields as it was the same process as the one we'd witnessed yesterday. Instead we were whistled straight into the factory to see how green tea was produced. Inside I noted some larger rollers on the floor, left over from the black tea processing, and I couldn't help compare their dimensions with the green tea rollers. They were massive in comparison and mirrored the differences between the two processes. Green tea required more finesse, a delicate hand to produce a delicate product. Yes, there was still the plucking, rolling, heating and sifting stages to pass through, but as I mentioned above green tea leaves were steamed at the beginning to arrest the fermentation process. Preserving natures secrets was the key to green tea. We rolled through the factory to compare notes with our visit to Dunkeld yesterday and then were led to a room where numerous grades were set out on display. Once again Dilmah had put on a marvelous tour and with its conclusion we headed back to the Grand Hotel for lunch.
With another fantastic meal under my belt I headed to the Dilmah t-lounge. I realized it might be my last time in one so asked Sujeev, the man in charge, if I could sample one of their new concoctions before heading out. With a shot of Chivas Regal, Kahlua, and a hint of sugar syrup layered within, I have to say I was instantly hooked, it was a very fine drink indeed. Then it was time to say goodbye to the rest of the 'School of Tea' participants. As they were heading back to the coast for three days of classroom and mixology classes Dilmah had arranged a different second half to our week together. I was here to film tea and Sri Lanka and it was hard to do that from a classroom, so they booked me a driver, Dhammika, who would shuttle me from activity to activity for the next four days, and on to the southern port city of Galle on the fifth where we would part company. I loaded into his car after lunch and we hit the road for the Udawalawe National Park where we would visit the Elephant Transit Home, part of a Dilmah Conservation program. First we had to get there. The roads in Sri Lanka are quite sinuous, very in fact, and small distances on the map can take considerably longer than what I was used to back in Canada. The nice thing about them though, is that modern engineering hasn't tried to tamper with Mother Nature too much. They followed the contours of the land and offered spectacular vistas. We traveled through forest, along hillsides that took us through Ella, and on to Rawana Ella waterfall, an incredible force of nature that had ballooned in intensity from the recent rains. From there we carried on toward the Udawalawe National Park.
That night I checked in at the GUSR (Grand Udawalawe Safari Resort). We'd descended from the heart of the tea country to the heart of Sri Lanka's elephant rehabilitation project, but that was on the slate for tomorrow.
It had been another unbelievable day but as I'd left the 'School of Tea' things were about to get very interesting.