by kate on April 8th, 2015
Arriving in Colombo after travelling without sleep for over 24 hours, you won´t be surprised to hear that I was pretty desperate for a cup of tea. I was delighted, then, to find that the little sim-card bundle I was given at the airport contained a sample of “Single Garden Premium Tea”. A teabag – but at that moment anything would have sufficed. Or so I thought.
“I´ll make it for you” said the receptionist at the hostel we stumbled into 2 hours later, melting from the heat. He could see me sleepily bumbling around the kitchen trying to find the kettle, and not having much luck. Then he did something really odd: putting the teabag in a cup, he poured over cold water from a bottle and then put the whole thing in the microwave for five minutes. Needless to say, it tasted awful. I started to wonder if this was the way everyone made tea in Sri Lanka!
So, my Sri Lankan tea experience could obviously only get better from this point. In the week or so I had at the coast before making my way to the Amba Estate, I drank whatever tea I could find at the local supermarket (the Dilmah brand, usually), about half a pint brewed strong every morning was fine for my morning tea hit, but it was nothing particularly special. I bided my time and looked forward to some real leaves at Amba. Everywhere I went I was reminded that Sri Lanka is a country famous for its tea. Old Ceylon tea houses, tea shops, tea museums, even a roundabout with a 2 meter high concrete teapot as its centerpiece.
The day for my journey to Amba arrived. I´d been told that the 6 hour train ride from Kandy to Bandarawela, the neareast town to Amba, would be picturesque, and I wasn´t dissapointed. As the slow, rickety train snaked higher and higher into the mountains, the views got more and more spectacular. Lush green hills, long rustling grass and, sure enough – tea. Dark green tea bushes springing out from every hillside I laid my eyes on. The first few minutes of this kind of view were such a joy that I continuously tried to take photographs, thinking that these sorts of vistas are rare. Oh how wrong I was. Five solid hours of countryside singuarly devoted to tea, you can´t photograph it all. So I watched. Miles and miles of mounatins bursting with tea plants. Despite the bumpy, jerky journey, it was the best train ride I have ever taken.
“Amba is remote” it says at the tip of the information sheet on the estate that I had printed out before leaving the UK. They´re not wrong. From Bandarawela station our tuk-tuk driver, happily chatting away to us in a mixture of broken English and Singhalese, drove us 40 minutes deeper into the countryside, as the mist descended around us over the mountains and I prayed we wouldn´t meet a local bus coming the other way along the single track winding road with the 100ft drop into nothingness on one side.
We turned onto a small, dusty track and, when this gave way to a seemingly unending length of bumpy, uneven cobblestones, the driver started to seem unconvinced that we were going to find Amba. Then the green gates came into view and we wearily but happily lugged our bags into Clove Tree House, Beverly and Neil´s guesthouse next door to the farm. The terrace of Clove Tree opens out onto stunning mountain views, including the famous Lipton´s Seat.
There, waiting for us on the table was a perfect spread of tea and cake. This sight was second best only to the views from the train. As I poured a cup of the rich ruby red liquor made from Amba’s leaves and tasted the familiar citrus and honey notes of the beautiful handmade tea, I knew the long journey had been worth it and I had found the best tea in Sri Lanka.