Tea Tasting & Tea Estates in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country
No trip to Sri Lanka would be complete without spending a little time visiting a Sri Lankan tea estate in the Hill Country to learn all about tea and for some Sri Lankan tea tasting. It’s probably a much more exciting prospect if you’re a tea lover, but even if you’re not, the Hill Country (or Tea Country) is arguably the most scenic part of the island. You’ll find rolling hills clad with row upon row of luscious, green tea plants. It’s often shrouded in a fine mist and is the perfect escape from the heat of the Sri Lankan beaches (if you need an escape).
Where is Sri Lanka’s Tea Country?
Sri Lanka’s tea country is located mainly in the central highlands, although some of the tea growing areas spread as far as the coast. The reason that tea grows well here is because of the topography and the climate. The fertile soil, humidity and higher rainfall provide excellent tea growing conditions and tea plants thrive. It’s also quite a bit cooler in the highlands than the coastal areas due to its elevation.
One thing to remember is that the climate is changeable and can be quite damp and rainy, so pack a fleece and a lightweight waterproof just in case.
Sri Lanka’s Tea Growing Areas
There are a number of Sri Lankan tea plantations covering large areas of the Hill Country, so the chances are you won’t be too far from one wherever you are in Sri Lanka. The main tea growing areas are :
- Nuwara Eliya
- Uda Pussellawa (between Nuwara Eliya and Ella)
- Uva (area around Ella and Badulla)
- Sabaragamuwa (sweeping from west of Kandy down past Horton plains and to Udawalawe)
- Dimbulla (between Hatton and Nuwara Eliaya)
- Ruhuna (southern province of Sri Lanka encompassing Yala)
The tea produced varies depending on where it’s grown. The higher the elevation, the lighter and subtler the tea. Higher elevation tea plantations are found around Haputale and Nuwara Eliya. The lower the elevation, the stronger and less subtle the tea. Lower elevation tea plantations are found near the coast in the area around Galle, where you’ll find plenty of things to do and also in Matara.
Sri Lanka’s Tea History
Sri Lanka, or Ceylon as it was known when it was a British colony, is one of the largest tea producers in the world. It’s said that the first tea plant was brought back (i.e. smuggled!) from China by the British in 1824. It was planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, Kandy. In 1867, Scottish man and a huge name in tea, James Taylor, started growing the first commercial crop of tea on the Loolecondera Estate in Kandy. Although the first tea factory in Sri Lanka is no longer in operation, you can take a historic tour.
After a blight of the coffee crops, tea began to take over as the main crop and now around 350 million kg of tea per year are exported by Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka makes some of the best tea in the world, and it’s ranked just behind Chinese tea, Indian tea and Kenyan tea.
Tea production in Sri Lanka is huge. It’s not just the large tea estates producing tea, there are thousands of small holders all contributing to the Sri Lankan tea industry. According to Google, tea is the most popular beverage in the world.
What to expect from a visit to a Tea Factory in Sri Lanka
If you love your tea and would like to learn more about the history and production process, it’s well worth visiting the Tea Country where there are dozens of working factories you can tour for free, or at a small cost.
A typical tour will take you through the fields to see the tea leaves being picked. You’ll then follow the leaves as they make their way around the factory. They’re washed, dried and shredded and then the final loose leaf tea product is packed into tea chests. It’s fascinating to see a tea factory in action; from processing freshly picked leaves through to packing the finished product.
At the end, you’ll learn how to make tea. Don’t expect to find any typhoo tea bags here. What you will see is a cup of tea being made properly, with loose leaf tea in tea pots and tea strainers. And then for the tasting.
As already mentioned, the tea industry in Sri Lanka is huge and employs many people, but we learned during our trip from one of our drivers that tea picking is extremely hard work and the workers are not paid very much. We had huge respect for them when we observed them busy at work on our tour.
The Most Popular Places in Sri Lanka for a Tea Factory Visit
The most popular places to visit tea estates are Kandy, Ella, Haputale and Nuwara Eliya. We’ve listed the main tea factories in these areas that you can visit to learn more about the tea industry in Sri Lanka.
Kandy (also known as the ‘Hill Capital’) is usually on most people’s itinerary as it’s the second largest city in Sri Lanka and a UNESCO World Heritage site, particularly famous for the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. If you don’t have time to venture further from Colombo into the Hill Country, then Kandy is a good place to go on a tea factory tour.
Kadugannawa Tea Estate
Kadugannawa is about 20km west of Kandy. It’s a great factory to visit because the lady giving the tours speaks great English and is very detailed in her explanation. You will get the full explanation about black and green tea production from picking the leaves to the final product. The tours are relatively quick which is good for the kids and are also free, with tea tasting at the end and a boutique with beautifully packaged tea gift sets.
Hanthana Tea Estate Factory
While in Kandy, make sure to pay a visit to the Ceylon Tea Museum located in a former tea factory. You can learn a lot about tea production, view machinery and there’s a shop and cafe with beautiful views over the region.
The rolling green hills of Ella with views of Little Adam’s Peak make it a beautiful place to stop over and visit a tea factory. Ella has grown hugely in popularity and there is so much for families to do here which we cover in our Ella post.
Halpewatte Tea Factory
If you want to visit a tea factory in Ella, Halpewatte is a good option. It’s the largest tea factory in the Uva region and only about 3km out of Ella on the road north. Entrance is LKR 525 / £2. It can be a bit hit and miss with non-production days but seems it is mostly not operational on Mondays. Tours last between 45 mins – 1 hour with tea tasting at the end and a shop for gifts and souvenirs.
If you’re really pushed for time and won’t have a chance to visit Halpewatte, you could visit the Newburgh Tea Factory which is on the way to Little Adam’s Peak on the Passara Road. It produces green tea only and offers a quick insight into tea making.
Haputale is about an hour on a very scenic train ride southwest of Ella. The landscape is undulating, luscious emerald hills. On a fine day it’s said you can see down to the south coast. Unfortunately, we visited on a cloudy and rainy day – but don’t let that put you off! The scenery was still stunning and very dramatic.
Dambetenne Tea Factory
The main factory in this area is Dambetenne. It was built by Sir Thomas Lipton in 1890 and is one of the best tours you can do in the hill country. Realistically you will probably only do one tour on your trip (we did two but it was probably a bit much for the kids!). We chose Dambetenne because we could take a quick and very scenic train ride over from Ella (made all the more special because we weren’t lugging our backpacks with us!) and we wanted to check out Haputale and the view from Lipton’s seat.
The tour fee is LKR 250. It is best to get there early on in the day, partly for the weather but also processing is more likely to take place in the morning. The factory is huge and the tour we had was very comprehensive although have heard that some people had a very rushed tour. We were the only ones there (probably because of the weather!) so maybe that had something to do with it. We watched the production process from beginning to end and enjoyed a lovely tasting at the end. There is no production on Sunday or Monday.
It is quite a hike up from town to Dambetenne so with little ones we recommend a tuk tuk.
The Kandy to Ella train journey is one of the most scenic in the world, but at seven hours it can be quite long for little ones. What you can do is take a trip on a shorter section, like Ella to Nuwara Eliya. Nuwara Eliya is beautifully scenic with a few other things to do, but mostly it’s about the scenery (along with the 19th century colonial vibes and architecture). If you are stopping in Nuwara Eliya and want to visit a tea factory, you can try Mackwoods.
Mackwoods Tea Centre
Mackwoods is quite a short tour (good for the kids) so you get a rough overview rather than an in-depth explanation. The tour is free with tea tasting included. You can also buy cake in the tea room to go with your tea. There is a gift shop but it’s quite expensive.
Pedro Tea Estate
Pedro Tea Estate is the probably the most famous tea factory in Nuwara Eliya but as it produces a light tea, most of the production takes place at night. You also cannot take photographs here. If you still want to go, it is about 3.5km East of Nuwara Eliya. Entrance is LKR 250 with tea tasting.
Interesting fact – a good old mug of tea, or builders tea as we call it, is made up of the dregs of the crop called ‘dust’! We hope that you will manage to work a couple of days in the Hill Country into your itinerary. Even if you’re not a tea enthusiast and are not tempted by the factory visits, then it is still worth going for the views!
Top Tip when Visiting Tea Factories in Sri Lanka
When doing any kind of tour, try to use the toilet facilities in your (or a nearby) hotel when possible, as the facilities in some of the factories are the hole-in-the-ground squat toilets that can get a little messy!
Find Accommodation in Sri Lanka’s Hill Country
There are a lot of accommodation options in the Hill Country, but we feel that it’s the ideal place to stay in colonial style, plantation accommodation for a more authentic stay. We’ve highlighted our favourite, family-friendly accommodation for each budget.
Thotalagala Plantation House Hotel – if you’re staying in the Hill Country and want to feel like you’re being transported back to the colonial days of British Ceylon, this is the place to stay. Winner of various Condé Nast awards, it’s a beautiful tea planter’s bungalow on the Dambetenne Tea Estate in Haputale. The views from the pool and the grounds in general are just outstanding. It is family-friendly, although no children under 6.
Goatfell – former tea plantation bungalow perched high up on a hill near Nuwara Eliya. It has been beautifully restored and allows total relaxation, whether on the covered veranda or by the infinity pool overlooking the tea plantations. They offer interconnecting rooms for families, or large rooms that can fit extra beds.
Craig Appin by Jetwing – a small, 4-bedroom colonial bungalow on the slopes of the Dickoya Tea Estate in Nuwara Eliya. They have a large family room and beautiful gardens.
Heritance Tea Factory – lovingly restored former tea factory with some of the original machinery still in place. It’s perched on the top of a hill in Nuwara Eliya with 360 scenic views (if you’re not shrouded in mist). Outdoor play area for kids, childcare services and spa facilities available.
Tea Hills Bungalow – not entirely a budget option, but one of the best value options in Hatton. They have large, family rooms and beautiful views.
The Castlereagh Resort – a lovely, simple but clean guesthouse in Hatton with a large family room with balcony overlooking the lake.
Can’t find what you’re looking for? Take a look at Booking.com which has the largest selection of accommodation in the area.
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