Handugoda tea estate is on the south coast of Sri Lanka, near Galle. The estate has been in the family for 145 years (and at one time apparently it was almost lost on the roll of a dice!).
I was lucky to be able to go and photograph the tea pickers, followed by a tasting of around 25 teas! from Lapsang Souchong, Oolong, Hibsicus and their famous white tea, all accompanied by a slice ... ok two of delicious cake, and then a fascinating tour of the factory.
Handugoda is unique as it is the close to the ocean and also world reknown for producing "virgin white tea" which is processed completely untouched by human hand. The estate is also part of a worldwide initiative called "tea for tears" that provides good working standards and fair pay for its workers.
The pickers work on shifts 7 days a week all year around from 8am - 4pm and are required to pick 15 kgs of leaves a day. They receive 12,000 rupees ( $10 usd ) a day and are remunerated for picking more leaves above the 15kg daily quota.
The estate is lovely. Coconut palms sway in the breeze alongside tea bushes and they encourage bird life here with fruit tree planting which draws birds in and serves to keep the ant and termite population down naturally rather than using pesticides on the bushes. There are monkeys, peacocks and huge monitor lizards about the plantation.
The leaves are harvested by hand and it's only the top part of the leaves, a portion of stem and the bud that are picked. The bud (white tea), the next leaf down (green tea) and the following couple of leaves all will make up black tea and this is called a "flush". Once the pickers fill up their baskets they return to the weighing station and the yield is logged.
The leaves then go through various processes and machines. First they remove the moisture by being laid out on wire mesh for 18-20 hours called withering, then they get pressed, rolled and crushed by machines, then fermented on tables to form the aroma and flavour. Then they get dried with very hot air and rapidly cooled (one machine was 150 years old and made by the same company who built the engines for the Titanic !). This dry tea is then sorted on vibrating sieves that have mesh of different diameters that seperate the leaves into uniform shapes and size. Other machines then sort the tea using colour sensors and then the leaves are packed and sent off to auction and customers.
I arrived just as the day was beginning, the ladies were getting their baskets together and heading off into the plantation chatting and smiling.
I hope you enjoy the photos!