“We try and pluck the darkest leaves,” she said. “The darker the leaf, the stronger the taste.” We were being given a tour around the Heritance Mini Tea Factory, learning about how the hotel plucks, makes and sells their own special brand of tea.
The Heritance Tea Factory hotel used to be a working tea factory built in the days of British Raj. And we were lucky enough to stay for two nights at the end of our honeymoon in Sri Lanka. Our stay included a tea plucking experience in the mountain range where the world’s best tea grows – Nuwara Eliya – inside the hotel compound. The hotel is absolutely beautiful and I’m so pleased we saved the tea hills until the last few days of our trip to Sri Lanka. Here’s my Heritance Tea Factory review.
A hotel steeped in history
The owners have done an amazing job of looking after the original features of the hotel, especially the original engine that powered the entire hotel from the basement. They even turn the engine on for half an hour in the evenings so guests can see it working and experience how it would have sounded when the hotel was a working factory.
I admit I was a bit of a geek about it and took so many photos to show my dad when we got back home! It was fascinating to learn so much about the history of the hotel and all the staff were more than happy to indulge stories.
A true Sri Lankan welcome
We arrived after a pretty long but beautiful train ride from Kandy. The temperature in the tea hills is significantly colder than the rest of the country, so we made sure to wrap up in jumpers, socks and scarves in the car ride from the station to the hotel. It felt like we were back in England, but it’s way more beautiful!
After our driver had dropped us at the entrance, we sat on the lobby sofas with a warm cup of BOP (broken orange pekoe) tea and a handful of spices and sugar. We were told to chew the spices and sugar crystals together, then take a drink to wash it all down. I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of cardamom, so the mixture was a little hard to swallow! I didn’t want to be disrespectful, so I chewed my way through the spices and really went to town with the tea!
Cosy rooms with a tin roof
The rooms at Heritance Tea Factory are super cosy, which is lovely when it’s blowing a storm outside. We were there when the weather was a little off, so each night experienced lots of wind and rain tapping on the tin roof. I found it really comforting though; it wasn’t a sound that I found annoying at all.
I also loved all the towel animals they left on our bed each afternoon! Despite it being the last three days of our honeymoon, these were the first towel animals of the holiday. I was super excited I finally got to have my photo taken with a towel monkey – how sad am I?!
Trekking through Sri Lankan nature
We hadn’t seen enough of the hills surrounding the hotel, so we signed up for a nature trek on a slightly drizzly day. Even though the hotel was lovely and relaxing, I couldn’t bear not having a walk around such a beautiful place even in the rain.
The hotel’s nature guide, Meiyappan, is a pro and knows everything there is to know about the hills and the village at the bottom of the hill. He told us stories of wild boar, buffalo and leopards that live close by the hotel. I swear we were only a few metres away from a buffalo, but we didn’t get to see it. Meiyappan pointed out every single bird we came across and gave us a history of the tea hills along the way.
Traditional Sri Lankan food, a peaceful restaurant
As our stay at the Heritance Tea Factory was our last stop of the honeymoon, we were well used to the amazing Sri Lankan food on offer. I headed straight for the Mulligatawny soup on our first night, and must have eaten their lentil dhal pot dry by the end of our stay!
Heritance Tea Factory, Sri Lanka
We tried everything we hadn’t tried before, and still filled our bellies with hoppers and plenty of okra and rice! There was an amazing desserts table too, piled high with jellies, ice creams, cakes, tarts and pastries. It was a bit like the table of food towards the end of Jurassic Park, but obviously no Velociraptors to be seen…
There’s another restaurant at the hotel. The highest restaurant in the whole of Sri Lanka to be exact. At 6850ft above sea level, TCK 6685 is a carriage of the Udapussellawa railway line that used to transport tea from the factory and is now a fine-dining restaurant. It looks absolutely beautiful inside, having been carefully restored and renovated with dining tables. We hadn’t booked in time to enjoy the restaurant but railway master, Pushparag, was more than happy to let us have a look around.
Plucking tea in traditional dress
The beautiful tea hills around the estate roll on and on for miles, and you can see tea pluckers meandering their way across the bushes until they’re tiny specks in the distance. We popped into the Mini Tea Factory for a lesson on how they pluck, dry and make their tea with original machinery, then got dressed in traditional plucking uniform for a trip into the smaller tea hill closer to the hotel.
Don’t we look hilarious in this dress? The factory staff had a good chuckle at how British and awkward we looked in the uniform! It took me a while to stop tripping over my sari and I wished I’d worn less cumbersome shoes than Converse high tops.
Our hostess explained the process of plucking tea leaves, telling us to fetch as many darker leaves as we could. We had a really good go at it, but after our half hour wandering the really steep hill the hostess chuckled at how little we’d managed to collect! And, that was with her following us and placing a handful of her own leaves in every now and then. How bad were we?
We felt a little defeated but incredibly humbled at how hard the tea pluckers work day in day out, and for not much money. Some of the women are quite old too and still manage to carry heavy baskets of leaves through the hills with ease. After I stumbled down a hill and snagged my ankle on a tea bush I figured it was best we left the pros to it!
please note: some header images are from unsplash.com