The origins of tea – a very English obsession

You can’t really visit Sri Lnka without visiting the tea plantations where it all began more than 200 years ago, during the days of the Raj. We British acquired a taste for our favourite brew which has never really flagged despite stiff competition from the coffee bean. To get to the actual tea plantations is however, easier said than done. Situated on cleared jungle slopes high up in the interior mountains, the tea bushes are set out in thousands of the neatest ordered rows with a formality incongruous in the middle of the mad jungle.Tea leaves are still picked by hand by Tamil workers carrying plastic bags on their backs in a way that hasn’t changed in a century. I’d grown up in the UK with that familiar picture on the PG Tips box of the lady picking tea – well her grand daughter is probably still doing the same today.

She’s still there!


Making tea remains only a partially mechanised process. The tea factories are all in the middle of their rolling plantations with many of them working just as they were over a hundred years ago. They were built to the original design of the industrial revolution with different processes on different floors just like the mills back in Olde England. The ancient machinery is still kept in perfect working order with the only more modern addition being an optical separater which selects the leaves by colour. The tea leaves are piled onto the grinding machine where they are rolled and then dried. On the wall is the timetable for the ‘rolling programme’  – a phrase used by many a glib management consultant without the faintest idea of its true origins.


Where it all begins – the temple of tea


The different types of tea are basically different grades of the same leaf ranging from Orange Pekoe the finest grade to ‘Dust No 1’ which is what we usually end up with in many of our tea bags back home.


Turning over a new leaf

The world of tea is an integral part of our daily lives and language in England. We have tea pots, tea cups, tea tables, tea towels, tea trays, tea time, tea breaks, tea spoons, tea cakes, tea roses and tea lights. We can go to a tea dance, be tea total and then have your stuff stolen by a  tea leaf. Excuse me while I just pop off to put the kettle on…


So much tea – so little time..
Tea Tipping at the Blue Field Factory
Tea Tower