how to visit tea plantations

Visit Tea Plantations in Sri Lanka – Exploring Tea Country

As you travel around Sri Lanka you can’t fail to notice the tea plantations.   Take a trip into the Hill Country of Sri Lanka and you’ll see gently rolling hills covered with the bright green of tea plants.  And any Sri Lanka itinerary would not be complete without a visit to a tea plantation.   Tea and its production employs more than a million Sri Lankans, which is about 4.5% of the population.   And to be fair, even if you don’t visit one of Sri Lanka’s tea plantations, you’ll see a lot of tea even just as you travel around.  Here’s our guide to visiting tea plantations in Sri Lanka.

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN COMPENSATED AND AFFILIATE LINKS MORE INFORMATION IN OUR DISCLAIMER

Around 4% of the land in Sri Lanka is given over to tea plantations. When taking the train, up from Kandy, through hill country, passing by Hatton, Nuwara Eliya and onto Ella you will still see a whole lot of tea life through your train window.  If you decide to visit a tea plantation you’ll learn about the growing of tea, how tea is picked, how tea is processed, and also get to taste some Ceylon tea.  The country reverted to its traditional name of Sri Lanka in 1972 but retained the name “Ceylon” for the marketing of teas.  It’s a pretty strong brand identity as Ceylon tea accounts for more than 17% of world exports of tea.

#1 DAY TRIP

Tea Plantation

Visit a tea plantation by Tuk Tuk

Take a full-day tour to visit the most famous tea plantation in Sri Lanka, Lipton’s Seat, see tea being picked, visit a tea factory, and get to taste Ceylon Tea.

Our experience in the tea plantations of Sri Lanka began as we took the train and headed up into the Hill Country.   It’s a magical ride. The train clunks its way up hills, round curves, through plantations. You’ll see tea pickers and fields and fields of green.

Sri Lankan Train passing Tea Plantation

Patterns like quilts of the greenest sea, accented with bright reds and oranges – and the grinning faces of the pickers as you pass. No waves though, these (mostly) women are working. And it’s a tough task that they have.

The Best Tea Plantations to Visit in Sri Lanka

There are several tea plantations and tea factories that you can visit in Sri Lanka here are the best tea plantations to check out while you’re in Hill Country.

The Pedro Tea Factory, Nuwara Eliya

At the Pedro Tea Factory that we visit 4 kilometers outside the town of Nuwara Eliya, we’re told that the pickers must deliver 16 to 18 kilograms (35 to 40 pounds) of tea each day to get paid, depending on the plantation that they work at. If they deliver 10 kilograms (22 pounds), they get a half day’s pay.

The wage here is minimal – and as recent reports have shown, life is tough for a plantation worker. Imagine yourself getting 1,000 LKR a day for delivering 16-18  kilos of tea. Each and every day. And while women make up the majority of the workforce they also earn less than the men.

We’re taking a tour here – after a short tuk-tuk ride to the factory, we don the aprons and hats to walk around the factory and join our guide after paying our entrance fee which will also include a cup of tea at the end.

Pedro Tea Factory Tour

First, we see where the tea is brought in from the fields.

Freshly picked Tea at the Pedro Estate

We follow our guide up the stairs and wait as one of the plantation workers loads up three bags of tea and carries them up the stairs. We carry water and day packs.

Drying the Tea

The tea is put to dry slightly and wilt for 16 hours. These 30-meter-long containers are about 30 centimeters deep with hot air blown from below to take the moisture out of the tea.

Drying the Tea in Sri Lanka

Curl a leaf between your fingers when it’s wet and it will snap. When it’s sufficiently wilted, it will bend. The hot air comes from a wood-fired furnace in another building.

We move on and photos are forbidden. In case, presumably, we are there to steal the century-old technology that is being used here.

It’s all incredibly simple. There are a series of machines around the room, each does one particular job. From cutting, to sorting, to drying. The smell is wonderful. The machinery is old. Presumably original. And yet it all works.

We finish the tour sitting on a balcony overlooking the plantations below – sipping a cup of tea in porcelain cups, then head to walk down through the bushes themselves.

Tea Picker at Work Sri Lanka

Picking Tea

It’s only the tips of the leaves that are picked. And only the young leaves, before they become too tough. The bushes are picked every six days. We try it ourselves. It’s pretty easy. Picking one tip, I mean. I decide that picking 16 kilos a day might be somewhat more difficult.

The Types of Tea Grown in Sri Lanka

We learn that there is one type of tea bush – the Camellia sinensis. Just one. Whether you end up with green tea, black tea, or silver tip, it’s all about how the tea leaf was processed that makes it into what ends up on the supermarket shelf.

Powered by GetYourGuide

Tea Processing in Sri Lanka

  • GREEN TEA is made from tea leaves that are dried and steamed after harvesting.
  • BLACK TEA is dried and crushed – this process allows enzymes to convert and create the more distinctive flavor and darker color of black tea.
  • SILVER TIPS – or WHITE TEA is allowed to wither in natural sunlight before processing. The name comes from the fine silvery-white hairs on the un-opened buds of the tea bush, which gives the plant a whitish appearance.

Tea Grading in Sri Lanka

We end by understanding more about the grading of the tea, from the highest quality to the lowest grade. I am astounded that I am so ignorant. To me, tea was always just tea.

Grades of Tea

There is Orange Pekoe, there is Broken Orange Pekoe, and four other process types right down to dust. Yep. Dust. The dust is for local use only, the lowest of the tea grades for the poorest of the people.

Ceylon Tea

Touring the Dambatenne Tea Factory, Haputale

We took another factory tour, at the Dambatenne Tea Factory, high over the town of Haputale. We had walked down from the foggy Lipton’s Seat, where we’d enjoyed hot tea, jaggery, and the most amazing samosas and curried potatoes with roti for breakfast.  Tea became popular in the UK during the late 1880s – shipped primarily from China. However, it wasn’t until Sir Thomas Lipton (of Liptons Supermarkets and Lipton Tea fame) visited Sri Lanka – then called Ceylon – bought himself some defunct coffee plantations, planted tea, shipped in Tamils from nearby South India and cut shipping times and costs, that it became available to the general public. (There’s more about Lipton, his history, and his tea plantation in my guide to visiting Lipton’s Seat here.).

Dambatenne Tea Factory

We visited Lipton’s Seat twice, once from Haputale and then again, when we returned to Sri Lanka we came here from Ella.

Drinking Tea in Sri Lanka

We’ve drunk tea throughout our travels, but here in Sri Lanka, it’s the first time it’s been presented in a teapot, with white tea cups and saucers. It was in Nuwara Eliya that I had the best cup of tea that I’ve ever had. Turned off the evil stuff by a bout of Glandular Fever and oodles of hot sweet milky tea at the age of 13, I’ve been a conscientious objector to the stuff since.

Drinking Tea in Sri Lanka

The Trans-Mongolian train and then two months in China and a month in Japan brought me back into the fold. Sri Lanka has made me a positive supporter. But I must say, I’m a fan of light, sweet black tea. No sugar, no cloying milk to despoil the delicate flavor. And please keep that strong evil Yorkshire Tea away from me. Chai, too, will turn my stomach.

There’s something so quintessentially civilized about taking tea that comes out of a teapot. That is poured into a teacup. And a teacup that has a matching saucer. It feels almost decadent.  For a seriously decadent afternoon tea experience head to the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya, it is truly delightful.

Afternoon Tea at the Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya Sri Lanka

So much of this tea experience revolves around the people we’ve met in Sri Lanka. Everywhere we travel in this country, we find friendly, helpful people. Wanting to know your name. Where you’re from. And more times than not, actually not wanting to sell you anything. Well, not in an relentless Vietnamese sort of way.

More than any part of Sri Lanka, it was in the hill country, in the tea plantations, and the good homestays, it was walking and meeting people and staying in their homes, that we got a true sense of Sri Lanka.

Travel Tips for Exploring Sri Lanka

Final Words on Visiting Tea Plantations in Sri Lanka

While the beaches may be nice, the Sri Lanka Transport provides a slice of adventure, the games of cricket are fun with a party atmosphere, and the food worth is getting fat for, it is the people who make Sri Lanka. The most welcoming, friendly, genuine folks that we’ve met, who welcome you to their country with both arms outstretched – and who make sure you have a card to give to others, who you’ll recommend them to.

We receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using our affiliate links. We do not represent World Nomads. This is not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.

ASocialNomad is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com, amazon.co.uk, and amazon.ca. Amazon and the Amazon logo are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc. or its affiliates. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *