Saturday, March 8

two leaves and a bud please mr lipton

I must admit my tea snobbery here and say that Lipton teabags provide the most pathetic dirty dish water brew on the market. Having seen that they literally shovel the dust off the floor for teabags I am not surprised. Why taint perfectly good water with such substandard tannins, when hand picked orange pekoe leaves are available? Plus with leaf tea you have the joy of pouring from a pot and extending the fine hour of little finger raising. You can't tell me Sir Lipton resorted to jiggling dust from a string. 

To really get amongst the camellia bushes we hired a scooter for the morning and rode the steep and curly back roads to the lookout at Lipton's seat. Plantations flank the roadsides and are interspersed with eucalyptus, introduced by early British planters who had links with Australia. The predominantly Tamil tea-pluckers live in small communities clumped around each tea processing factory, and they commute on foot to work each day for a minimal wage. The less photogenic nylon sack is now more common than the romantic image of a rattan basket slung off the forehead. 

The air was brisk at the summit, and a hot brew with fresh vegetable samosas taken in the morning sunshine was just what Lipton would have wanted; although he would have probably expected scones and jam. 

We joined a short informative tour of the Dambatenne tea factory, built in 1890 by Tommy Lipton and one of the largest producers of black tea in Sri Lanka. The processed tea is transported to Colombo and sold at a weekly auction to buyers representing tea retailers around the world. Your next cup of Dilmah may have been rolled, dried and shovelled in this very factory.

We had underestimated the petrol guzzled by our scooter to climb the hill and conked out near the factory. The closest fuel station was miles away, so we convinced a tuk-tuk driver to syphon half a litre from his tank to send us on our way. A tea powered motorbike is what the planet needs.

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