Sri Lanka's Green Gold

The lower mountain slopes of Sri Lanka’s verdant highlands are swathed in millions of tea bushes making up the estates. These historic tea plantations are a legacy of British colonial culture, while the sight of Tamil pickers in colourful garments gathering delicate tea leaves by hand remains an archetypal image of Sri Lanka.

Tamil pickers in colourful garments gathering delicate tea leaves  Dambatenne, Sri Lanka

Koptekst 1

Tea begins its journey from hillside to cup with a gentle tug between the thumb and forefinger of one of the island’s thousands of Tamil tea pluckers

On some tea plantations, they use a long bamboo stick to ensure a quality harvest. This photo taken in Dambatenne and shows how it is used: the plucker has placed it in front of her and only takes the shoots that extend beyond it. This prevents the plucking of the previous season’s leaves, which are tougher and don’t produce good tea.

Tea leafs picking requires a large amount of care as well as skill and is often done by Tamil women.

Tea pickers on the steep hills of the Lipton Tea Grounds in Dambatenne, Sri Lanka

The tea leaves are picked and dropped in a large green or white bag that the Tamil carry on there back with a head strap

The average plucking capacity amounts to approximately 16 - 24 kg of green leaves per day. This amount yields 4 - 6 kg of finished tea

The larger tea farms have on location schools for the children of the Tamil tea pickers.  Lipton tea grounds, Dambatenne, Sri Lanka

Chathuri who is working as a school teacher is waiting for the children. The school is located directly on the tea property. This has many advantages for the women who are working long hours in the fields.

A few times during the day women walk long distances to bring the tea leaves to the collection points on the farm.  Dambatenne, Sri Lanka.

At the end of the day all women gather to deliver the tea leafs to the chief weighter

The leafs are weighted and the chief writes down the amount they have picked. The Tamil women are payed by the kilogram.

All the tea leafs are collected and put into purple bags for transportation to the tea factory.

Two to three times a day, the green leaves are transported to the factory on the plantation. The green, fresh leaves are still entirely neutral in scent and first have to be treated in the tea factory, passing through various production steps, in oder to create an aromatic tea.

Dambatenne Tea Factory outside the town of Haputale offers informative tours explaining the production process and is within easy reach of Lipton’s Seat where you can enjoy panoramic views of the historic plantations

Photography  © Dominic Verhulst 2019