DECEMBER 5, 2018
Time: APPROX. 0300 HOURS
Place: MURMANSK, RUSSIA
Came back to my hotel from Teriberka after living the Moment of the Dream Birthday of a Lifetime amidst the Arctic Tundra, Frozen Arctic Beach and the Majestic Aurora Borealis.
The growl of the Polar winds is still very much present in this area as well (Ah..!! Such a soothing music to my ears)
Although it’s an unquestionable fact that Russia, especially the Arctic is Magical indeed during the peak of Winters, yet the cold does sting (I am still not complaining though). The temperatures south of -12 degree C accompanied by Polar Winds is capable of giving sharp chills to anybody.
Hence, I straightaway increased the room’s heating, went off for a nice and hot bath to ease my cramped hands and legs. Already I could see a spell of heavy snowfall from my hotel’s window post seeing the Aurora Borealis.
Perhaps a cup of hot tea with some cookies can help me enjoy the mesmerizing views of the massive snowfall during my Birthday in this Arctic City of Murmansk – at almost the “edge” of the world.
But tarry a little.
The tea bags contained markings which pointed out their origin to Sri Lanka.
I was momentarily transported back in time – almost one year ago in 2017, when I was sipping the fabled Sri Lankan tea right there in a beautiful tea garden in Sri Lanka – in another part of the world. Another even in life came to a full circle..!!
What a way now to celebrate my 30th Birthday..!! The day (or rather Polar Night) is just getting better and better..!!
A Tale of Teas
Sri Lanka is among the Top 5 tea exporting countries of the World, supplying around 12% of the World’s Tea. Russia is among the top customers of Sri Lankan tea, which quite explains it’s availability even in the “Edge of the world” Arctic city of Murmansk.
And how is it possible that I paid a visit to this beautiful country and missed an audience with it’s prized jewel?
During my visit to Sri Lanka as a Member of the Indian Youth Delegation, I did get not one but two chances of tasting this “golden-orange” elixir, for which even wars were fought in the olden times.
Although I am no expert of Sri Lankan teas, yet I shall try to tell about the two types of teas which I had the opportunity to taste in Sri Lanka. Among the other charming aspects of Sri Lanka like it’s nature, forests, culture and beaches, I would say tea should be the most compelling one and a major driving force to make a tea lover pay a visit to Sri Lanka and have a first hand experience of all the varieties of the highly prized teas available in this beautiful nation.
Nuwara Eliya Tea
Nuwara Eliya variant of tea is perhaps one of the most if not the most sought after Sri Lankan tea variants, akin to the Darjeeling variant of Indian tea.
Nuwara Eliya is a picturesque place located high atop the hills of the Central Province of Sri Lanka. It is usually characterized by moderately cool and moist climate.
We did not get the opportunity to visit Nuwara Eliya. However we still got an opportunity to taste it elsewhere.
Tea Growing region: Nuwara Eliya, Central Province (Elevation is more than 1,600 m above sea level)
Tea Tasting Place: Kadugannawa Tea Factory, Kandy
Tea cultivation in Nuwara Eliya was started by the British in the mid to late Nineteenth Century CE. Initially, the hills of Nuwara Eliya was home to coffee plantations until it was realized that the cooler climate and frequent rains were unsuitable for the coffee plants to grow. Hence, the cultivators of this region switched to tea cultivation.
The Nuwara Eliya tea is perhaps the most celebrated tea variant of Sri Lanka and finds its name as one of the finest teas in the World.
In my opinion, the colour and texture of this tea variant makes it a close relative of the globally acclaimed Darjeeling Tea of India.
The claim to fame of the Nuwara Eliya Tea is it’s distinctive pale golden hue. There is also a light fruity aroma which is characteristic to this tea variant. The most sought after tea leaf grade among the Nuwara Eliya teas is the Orange Pekoe grade
I prefer having tea in its raw and undiluted form where the leaves are brewed for about 2-3 minutes and the liquor thus served without adding any milk or sugar. I am not quite sure how it would taste in presence of milk and sugar, but I find the raw one taste closest to the desired flavour with the aroma more or less intact.
Visitors to Sri Lanka staying near Colombo or Kandy may consider visiting the Kadugannawa Tea Factory to know more about the various grades of teas (Orange Pekoe, Broken or Flowery Orange Pekoe, etc), the manufacturing process of teas and the most prized (and expensive) golden tip and silver tip teas.
Another acclaimed variant of Sri Lankan tea is the Ruhuna Tea.
Ruhuna is a sparsely populated forested region of located quite close to the Southern Coast of Sri Lanka. The region is culturally and historically quite rich. Ruhuna region today contributes significantly towards the bulk of tea exports from Sri Lanka.
Tea growing and tasting place: Neluwa (Elevation: Less than 600 m)
Neluwa is a low elevation forested area in the Southern region of Sri Lanka. Neluwa is quite close (about 60 km) from the Southern Port city of Galle.
We paid a visit to Neluwa to see a self sufficient village community residing in the hills. The community through its efforts have build a river bridge. Though the place is quite remote, yet concerted efforts by the members of the village community of Neluwa resulted in building a school and practice farming, tea cultivation alongwith the cultivation of spices like Black Pepper, which are mostly sold. The area is quite scenic with lush green tea gardens decorating the gentle hill slopes.
We were privileged to meet the determined and brave people of Neluwa who chose to be self-reliant despite harsh conditions of Nature and the remoteness of the place. I shall cherish the warmth, friendliness and hospitality of the people of Neluwa.
Unlike the other tea growing regions of Sri Lanka, tea cultivation in Ruhuna was started quite later, during the Twentieth Century CE. Ruhuna tea estates claim to be among the earliest ones owned and operated by Sri Lankan people at a time when majority of tea estates in other regions of Sri Lanka were owned by British Colonialists.
Tea in general is usually grown in areas with medium altitude (approx. 1,000 to 2,000 m above Sea Level) areas with moderately rainy, frost free weather.
Some teas like the Ruhuna variant grow in low lying areas with altitude of less than 600 m.
It was pretty unique an experience to taste tea unique to Sri Lanka, in an environment which is as close to nature as possible. The reasons for that assertion are as follows:
- The tea was grown locally
- The tea leaves were dried without blowers or machines (i.e., sun dried) which should ideally be the case
- The accompaniment was also locally made (Jaggery)
And thus, the taste and experience were simply out of the world. More so because of the zen feeling of having tasted something local and traditional in the traditional setting, in its place of fame or origin and in the conditions ideal for such consumption, which can never be replicated.
Ruhuna Tea has quite a dark hue. The flavour I found to be quite strong with a distinct smoky aroma. The jaggery decreased the bitterness quotient of the tea, yet neither interfered with the aroma of the tea nor made it too sweet and sticky to taste.
Perfect blending, perfect aroma, perfect taste. Traditional and Authentic Sri Lankan Tea.
A Tale of Spices
Sri Lanka is famous not only for tea, but also for a variety of spices.
Sri Lanka is a major exporter of several spices used in kitchens worldwide for flavouring and for their medicinal value. Some of them are:
- Cinnamon: Perhaps the Prized Jewel of Sri Lankan spices. The Sri Lankan or Ceylon Cinnamon is globally acclaimed for its strong aroma, flavour and slightly sweeter taste. A glimpse of Cinnamon is provided in the post chronicling My Visit to the Estuarine Wetlands of Madu Ganga River.
- Black Pepper: I am going to show a glimpse later in this post
- Curry Leaves
And many more..
Black Pepper or Peppercorn is actually a small fruit which is dried and used as a spice. Black Pepper is said to be a spice native to India.
Black Pepper was known to humans since the ancient times. Like Cinnamon, Black Pepper was also very expensive and the aristocrats or Royalty could afford it. Ancient Egyptians used pepper in mummification rituals. Pepper was believed to be the favourite yet the most expensive component of a Roman luxury dish during the ancient times.
Today, black pepper is exported mainly by Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Brazil, Sri Lanka. Black Pepper contains Vitamin K, Iron (Fe), Manganese (Mn) and trace amounts of other nutrients.
I got an opportunity to witness the cultivation of Black Pepper in Neluwa.
Black Pepper is known for its spiciness. The Pepper we use in our kitchens are dried fruits.
But pray, what will the raw freshly plucked pepper taste like?
I must warn the people who cannot tolerate spice – Please do NOT try this. I tasted raw pepper. The aroma is superb, stronger than the dried pepper. But it’s terrifically spicy. I had to spit out the raw one seconds after tasting it. It’s good to have it for a one time experience, but I am not tasting raw freshly plucked pepper again.
Until Next Time
The jewels of Sri Lanka never fail to amaze the curious traveler. The country is blessed with naturally beautiful landscapes, beaches and forests. The hospitality and warmth of the people is something to cherish.
The modern Sri Lanka boasts of it’s rich cultural heritage in addition to having a fast growing economy, which is mostly sustainable. The exports of great quality Sri Lankan products have made the country earn a global fame and acclaim.
The Indian Youth Delegation gave an immense honour and privilege to not only represent India as an ambassador, but also understand the intricacies of Sri Lanka. The memories associated with the Delegation will always be cherished. To know more about the Indian Youth Delegation, click here.
I shall be posting a few more articles on Sri Lanka. I urge my readers to check my previous articles on Sri Lanka. Any feedback, share or comments will be greatly appreciated.
© Abirbhav Mukherjee. All the pictures / videos posted in this article are my own unless otherwise mentioned.
PS: The use of “CC” is inspired from “Avengers: Endgame (2019)” Movie of Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU)