All about tea in Sri Lanka … no Lipton for me

Growing up in Trinidad leads you to believe certain truths about the world

  • Any drink with fizz or carbonation is a “Swee Drink”
  • All condensed milk should come from a small Nestle can.
  • All tea is either Lipton or Dilmah, always comes in a bag.

I was never a big tea person back home because I’m lactose intolerant. In the years when I grew up (80’s and 90’s), if you walked into any Indo-Trini household and you’re going to find a pot of tea in the morning along with a can of Carnation evaporated milk or Nestle Condensed Milk for breakfast. With this association, I always assumed that tea and milk went together – which then fueled an aversion to tea. Makes sense right? It wasn’t until I started going to Chinese restaurants in Montreal, did I learn that most tea is served without milk. I also learned that most good tea doesn’t come in a bag but rather loose leaf.
Over the years, I’ve tried to learn a lot more about tea along with other beverages … but there is a certain mystique about tea that resonates from my childhood. Visiting Sri Lanka, you can do a lot of fun things like ride elephants and wander around magical temples and monasteries, but a highlight for me was visiting tea plantations and tea tasting – i.e having tea in Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, tea is the national drink. I mean duh … they sponsor the Sri Lankan cricket team and the only Sri Lankan brand I actually knew was Dilmah. Every day a Trinidad – Sri Lanka connection is made through Dilmah and almost every nationality in the world will tea made from leaves grown in the hills of Sri Lanka.

embilmeegama tea factory

We did a tour of the Embilmeegama tea factory. It’s an unpretentious building on the outskirts of Kandy with a narrow store frontage displaying teas to tables of imbibers all of whom had been ushered through the two floors of workers, machinery and boxes that was the factory. The tour can be split into three parts and takes about 20 – 25 minutes, here are the three parts:

  1. Visiting the upstairs rooms where the tea leaves are brought into the building and they are placed into the massive circular machines before going through the refining process.
  2. Visiting the downstairs room where the tea goes through different levels of refining and is eventually left out to rest before being heated.
  3. The tea is heated and then cooled and put into bags ready for shipment.
Freshly picked tea leaves
Tea drying on the belts
Sorting the leaves


tea being sorted and cleaned
leaves being dried
More drying
more sorting

After all the processing of the leaves, then you get to learn a bit more about the grades of tea. You also get to figure out that the tea in the bags, might be the best quality tea you’re drinking.

  • Choppy contains many leaves of various sizes.
  • Fannings: are small particles of tea leaves used almost exclusively in tea bags.
  • Flowery: consists of large leaves, typically plucked in the second or third flush with an abundance of tips.
  • Golden Flowery: includes very young tips or buds (usually golden in colour) that were picked early in the season.
  • Tippy: includes an abundance of tips.
grading the quality of tea

I also learned that there were only 4 different types of tea … which makes life a lot simpler.

  1. White: White tea is the least known and least processed of the varieties and, therefore, tastes mostly like fresh leaves or grass. It also has the lowest amount of caffeine and is most likely to have the highest antioxidant properties.
  2. Green: Green tea, like white tea, is closer to tasting like fresh leaves or grass than the black or oolong variety. It is lower in caffeine and extremely popular for its high antioxidant properties.
  3. Black: Black tea is the most consumed of the four kinds of tea. It contains the highest amount of caffeine and has some antioxidant properties.
  4. Oolong: Oolong tea is the most difficult variety to process. The best way to describe it would be to say it is somewhere between green and black tea. This is because it is only partially oxidised during processing.

Herbal tea isn’t really tea, but rather a fusion of dried flowers and herbs. There’s your fun fact for the morning. Once you’ve learned all about tea, then the fun starts with all the shopping and tea drinking.

how much for your tea, buddy?
You get lost with all the flavors of tea …
The flavored tea comes in boxes, while the Silver and Golden tips come in cloth bags.

I only wanted Silver and Golden tips for my tea. It’s more expensive, but once you’ve had some fantastic tea, you won’t really want to drink anything else.

Only Golden Tip for me!!!




About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at

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