It’s common knowledge that the British love their tea and a whopping three out of every eight units of liquid consumed can be found in a teacup. As a Brit myself, I’m always on the hunt for the perfect cuppa when I’m travelling. Here are five destinations that will please the most demanding tea connoisseurs.
This tiny teardrop in the Indian Ocean punches well above its weight when it comes to tea, exporting almost a fifth of the world’s tea and earning itself around $1.5 billion in the process. Tea connoisseurs should head for the hills: just a few hours from the capital Colombo you’ll find verdant terraces lined with row upon row of tea bushes. The pickers are mostly women, whose colourful saris stand out against a backdrop of green. One of the highlights of a visit to Sri Lanka’s hill country is a stay on a tea plantation where travellers have the chance not only to taste a range of locally produced teas but also to pick their own leaves. It’s harder than it looks. Though the regulars make light work of plucking the tastiest leaves and fill their wicker baskets effortlessly, it takes stamina and skill to keep up with this backbreaking work on such steep slopes. Fortunately, at the Heritance Tea Factory near Nuwara Eliya, the former industrial building has been converted into one of the country’s most attractive luxury hotels. Amongst the vintage machinery, you’ll find rooms with views over the surrounding hills and have the chance to retreat to a spa for the ultimate tea connoisseurs’ treat – a tea facial.
The custom of drinking tea dates back thousands of years in China. Teas of many colours – yellow, green, black, red – are produced in great quantity by the world’s top tea earner. One of the country’s unmissable destinations for tea connoisseurs is Long Jing. This village, located in the Hangzhou region, is home to the country’s most famous green tea. So legend has it, during a drought a monk called on a dragon to bring rain to fill a local well, hence the tea’s alternative name, Dragon Well green tea. The tea also has Imperial connections, revered for its bright green colour and intense aroma. Learn about it, and Chinese tea in general, at the China National Tea Museum in Long Jing village which has been a popular attraction since opening over a quarter of a century ago. Don’t miss the Kaleidoscopic Hall which features more than 300 kinds of tea.
The characterful toy trains of Darjeeling Himalayan Railway are an attraction in themselves, but the tea-growing region that they serve should be high on anyone’s India bucket list. Tea tourism itself is a relatively new concept but with around 80 operational tea gardens in the Darjeeling area, it’s the perfect choice for anyone fond of the drink. Stay in bungalows once home to colonial-era tea planters, often still crammed with period furniture. Try Singtom Tea Estate Resort, closely linked to Steinthal tea which was the first to be planted in the Darjeeling Hills back in 1852. Ging Tea House is barely older, established in 1864 and offering outstanding views from its deck of Kanchenjunga, the world’s third highest mountain. If you’re looking for an authentic stay, there are many more tea gardens nearby to choose from to suit all tastes and budgets.
It’s no surprise that New Zealanders make a good cuppa as so many of its citizens can trace their ancestry to the UK. The British tradition of afternoon tea was introduced in England in 1840 by the Duchess of Bedford and quickly became popular with the masses. Those who made the long journey to the Southern Hemisphere took that tradition with them. High tea, as it’s known there, is a firm fixture in top hotels such as Auckland’s The Langham, which has its own tea sommelier. A couple of hours drive south delivers you to the gates of Zealong Tea Estate in the Waikato region. The place is the brainchild of Vincent Chen, who observed that locally grown camellias had a striking similarity to the tea bushes his family had grown up within Taiwan. He imported tea cuttings from Asia and established New Zealand’s first tea estate. All that hard work paid off and the plantation is now a popular visitor attraction.
Allow me to end with a bit of a curve ball: Kenya. Though you might not think of it at first, this East African nation is actually the world’s third-largest exporter of tea, beaten only by China and Sri Lanka. Yes, India’s actually fourth. If you’re planning to visit the capital, Nairobi, then it’s well worth the short detour to Limuru where you’ll find Kiambethu Farm. AB McDonnell bought the farm in 1910 and became the first person to grow tea in Kenya and sell it commercially. The farm’s still a family concern, run by McDonnell’s granddaughter Fiona. From its verandah visitors are treated to delightful views across the tea fields to the instantly recognisable form of the Ngong Hills beyond. Tours of the farm, and the colobus monkey inhabited indigenous forest that surrounds it begin with a cup of tea – what else?
Now if you’ll excuse me, all this talk of tea is making me thirsty. Cuppa anyone?