We took a train one morning from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya. Although Sri Lanka is famous for the iconic blue train, our train route took us through virtually the same scenery: the tea plantations and highlands of Sri Lanka. While sipping masala chai, we took in the magnificent surroundings.
Tea was first introduced in the 1800’s from China and the first tea export documented was in 1876. Currently, the biggest buyer of Sri Lankan tea is Russia. We visited Glenloch Tea Factory which opened in the same year.
Laborers pick each plant by hand monthly for 35 years. Usually the tea pickers are women, and on average these women can pick up to 35 kilograms daily. One single plant can produce 4 different kinds of tea. The silver tip tea is from the baby leaf tip, green tea is from the second leaf, golden tea is from the baby leaf and second leaf, and black tea is from all of the leaves with the stem.
Once the tea leaves are picked, they are dried on racks with fans for 12 hours. After drying, the weight of the leaves is half of the original weight. Then, a machine cuts and crushes the leaves. Another machine sifts through the pieces to determine if they need to be recut into smaller pieces. Leaves are then fermented where they become brown and aromatic. Not all teas are fermented and the longer the fermentation time, the more caffeine content and bitter taste the tea acquires. After fermentation, the leaves are dried in a machine that uses half firewood heat and half electric heat. The firewood adds aroma and flavor to the leaves. Afterwards, the different leaves are blended and packaged for sale.
We visited a spice garden where we learned about ayurvedic medicine and how spices are grown in Sri Lanka. Cinnamon sticks are from the bark of the cinnamon tree, which is endemic to Sri Lanka. Once the bark dries in the sun, it rolls in on itself to form the cinnamon stick.
Ginger, turmeric, and cardamom are all part of the same plant family. Ginger is good for nausea and sore throat. Turmeric is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. It is used to dye monks’ robes and used on skin. It has no taste, but adds the yellow coloring in cooking. You should use pepper with turmeric when cooking because piperine helps enhance the absorption of the active ingredients in turmeric called curcumin.
Pineapple plants produce one fruit every six months. To replant, you plant the crown of the fruit as a seed.
The nutmeg tree produces large fruit like apricots. The large nut inside the fruit produces two types of medicinal plant. The outer red, flaky crust can be made into maze. The nut itself is what we consider traditional nutmeg, the spice. Too much nutmeg is hallucinogenic.
The pepper plant is a vine that wraps around trees. The variety of colors of pepper are all derived from the same plant. Black pepper is dried pepper, which is why it has a longer shelf life, whereas green pepper, pink pepper, and red pepper are not dried.
Cloves are grown on trees and are good for tooth aches given its numbing capabilities. In Sri Lanka, tooth picks are made from clove tips. Cloves help fight gum disease and are great for teeth whitening. The aroma of cloves is also a good bug deterrent.
The vanilla vine is part of the orchid family. It is the second most expensive spice, after saffron. Madagascar produces 80% of the world market of vanilla.
We tried an herbal spice tea containing cinnamon, cloves, vanilla, ginger, and cardamom. We also smelled a variety of spice blends including masala spice, which is a blend of curry, cumin, anise, dill seed, mustard seed, and coriander. We also learned about a variety of Ayurvedic medicinal compounds.