Imagine the smell of the most fresh tea you can get. Watching the women working in the tea plantations, surrounded by misty mountains, laughing and talking to eachother while picking fresh tea leaves. Entering the factory where the famous Ceylon black tea is made and the smell of the tea production getting stronger and stronger, the closer you get to the factory – it’s just a lovely feeling. The friendly manager of Uva Halpewatte tea factory invited us on a guided VIP tour in his factory, to show us how the Sri Lankan tea is made.
Did you know that green, black and white tea, comes from the same plant? The difference lies in the proces after the leaves are collected, not the plant itself! In Sri Lanka they’re only producing the black tea though.
Here’s a quick tour through the manufacturing of Ceylon black tea and how it ends in your tea cup.
First the leaves are collected from the fields and put into big containers, big enough for 1,5 ton of tea leaves. Here they are being spread out and will stay for 10-12 hours, where up to 70% of the water evaporates. The leaves will then get a softer texture. The containers are equipped with a net inside where the leaves lie on top of the net, and a big fan then blows air under the leaves to fasten the drying process. Workers are also going around and checking for bad leaves to remove. The bad leaves are the leaves that have grown for too long so their texture becomes hard.
After the drying process, the leaves are being put into a machine called a roller. This machine consists of a big round flat metal plate, where the leaves are put on. Another heavy round metal plate will then gently roll on top of the leaves and turn around in circles. This way the leaves are being rolled so the moisture comes out of the leaves.
The leaves are then being put in a bunch around 15-20cm high for around 2 hours. This process is called the fermentation process. A guy will smell the leaves until the correct smell comes through.
The leaves are now ready for the heating process. The heating process is a very precise process where the leaves are put in a machine that dries them for exactly 21 minutes in 40 degrees temperature. Too much time will give the tea a burned taste, too little will make them to soft.
After drying, the leaves now looks more like the tea you recognize from the shop. The leaves has turned from green soft leaves, to a more black colour and smaller pieces. The tea is now put in another machine that seperates the stem from the drinkable black tea. The stem leftovers will go back into the fields as compost. The seperating process is an ongoing process that is being done between almost every step we’ve explained so far, to ensure the tea is pure and doesn’t contain other things than the best quality tea leaves.
In one of the final steps the dried black tea is being seperated in to different varieties and qualities. This is done with a machine that shakes the tea through layers of metal plates with smaller and smaller holes in the longer down you look. This will give a end product of 6 different kinds, ranging from big black leaved tea which is used for loose tea and down to powder which is used for teabags and the price follows down with the sizes.
The tea is then packed in big bags as high as us and sold in the auctions of Colombo to the highest bidder, which then repack it into small size packets and exports the tea to around the world.
Now you know how your favorite Ceylon tea is made!
We must tell you that some of the other factories we visited other than Uva Halpewatte tea factory, wasn’t with the same quality of the tour and products. Not even close! We’ve got some very bad tours with guides that spoke very limited english and a hygiene that scared us a lot. We visited a famous tea factory started by Thomas Lipton himself called Dambatenne Tea Factory – should’ve been a great experience you think? This was an extremely dissapointing tour, with almost no explanation and we realised that it isn’t always as glourious as on Uva Halpewatte. We just can’t recommend a tour at this place.
What we can recommend based on our experience, is to buy a good quality of loose tea if you want to be sure what you are putting into your teacup.
Check out the gallery, Temples, Tea and Mountains here!