Press release and images on The perfect cup of Sri Lankan tea is always milk into tea - according to the experts from Dilmah
From firing to fermenting, drying and serving – this is the art of Sri Lankan tea, and Freya Herring gets a run through for 9Kitchen on-location where the fragrant beverage is at its best, right in the fields.
Lush, green fields. Ladies in colourful saris picking leaves. Steep hills and red earth. Aside from the melodic birdsong, there is intense, peaceful silence. There are many ways to describe the calming atmosphere of Sri Lanka’s Hill Country, where most of the country’s famous tea is grown. It’s pretty much heaven on earth – if serenity, beauty and caffeinated beverages are your bag.When we visit, we stay at Ceylon Tea Trails , which is conveniently owned by Dilmah, so the tea experience here is second to none. Set within the hills overlooking picturesque Castlereagh reservoir, each English-style bungalow in the resort is original to the tea estate, and ours dates from 1925. We wake up each morning and are fed Sri Lankan curries and big, creamy slabs of coconut milk-soaked rice with pol roti studded with yet more coconut, seated amongst the colourful, perfectly pruned gardens. We drink tea with too much sugar and hot, frothy milk – Sri Lankan style. It’s probably not what the original British owners would have had for their breakfast (colonial food was more of a mash-up of local and British tastes) but we’d rather eat Sri Lankan food in Sri Lanka, no question.
But we're here for the tea.Tea came to Sri Lanka from India by way of Scottish-born planter James Taylor in 1867. The tea plantations around Ceylon Tea Trails are still active (where else do you think your Dilmah cuppa comes from?) and we hop in a car to take us through the fields and down to Dunkeld factory, where the greenery that surrounds us became our morning cup. It is probably the most beautiful factory you will ever see – dating back 150 years, with long, glass-lined facades resonant with age and history.
Inside, we are taught the intricacies of tea making by the manager, Marlon de la Harpe. Did you know that tea is fermented? (That makes it healthy, right?) That's just one of the many stages of the process that transforms green leaves into dainty cups of liquid gold. In fact, white, black and green teas all come from the same plant, camellia sinensis – it's just the processing that dictates the final product. Sri Lanka, though, has built its reputation on black tea.Using a levelling stick, specific leaves are picked, "We leave the dark green leaves in the field, we call this the 'mother leaf'," says de la Harpe. Then the leaves are withered for two to three hours in an aged furnace, before being dried with cool air for up to 11 hours. The building's expansive windows are thrown open and air circulates the rooms, to help aid the process. The leaves are then bruised, releasing their juices, and the first process of oxidation takes place (fermentation). Smelling like freshly-mown grass, the green leaves are pressed together and left in the airy rooms to ferment for a few hours. De la Harpe says he knows when the fermentation is complete just by touch and smell, "Nothing is computerised." The fermentation process is arrested by heating again, then the tea leaves are cooled, rolled, cut, cleaned and graded by strength - "The smaller the tea particle, the stronger the tea," says de la Harpe, "It only takes 24 hours from field to cup."
Tea in Sri Lanka is mostly picked by Tamil women, and the sight of vividly coloured saris – pink, purple, orange – among the bright green leaves of the hillside is one something you never forget; it’s like a painting, moving and swaying in front of your eyes.Before we leave the beautiful factory building to head back to our bungalow, we ask de la Harpe the ultimate question – how do you make the perfect cup of tea? He looks us right in the eyes, and says, very seriously, "Milk into tea, not tea into milk." That’s us told.
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