The Amazing Tea Race




Despite its tiny size, Sri Lanka is one of the world's top producers of tea. 370,000 tons were produced last year: mostly low-grade, cheap black tea. One estate has decided to challenge that trend.

Our first stop: Amba Estate.




Travel Notes

Colombo, Sri Lanka: we rendezvous with fellow tea enthusiast Phil Holmans, owner of World Tea House.

While we're happy to be in Sri Lanka, there are already stresses hanging over our heads, as Phil struggles with Indian visa problems. However, complications are just something we have to face in sourcing tea, sometimes.

With patience, a quick beach stop, visits to the High Commission of India, and four "TukTuk" auto-rickshaw rides later, we were finally ready to make the drive northeast to Amba Estate.







Amba Estate has a strong dedication to empowering its workers: the management has pledged 10% of the estate's revenue back to the employees. That includes revenue from the teas, the guesthouse, and the farms; regardless of the profitability of the estate.

They made this announcement in March of last year, during our last visit. We are happy to see that the program is continuing! The workers are cheerful and proud as ever to offer their handcrafted teas to the world.



The pioneer behind Amba Estate, Beverly Wainwright, recently left the estate, but her energy and passion is still very much evident in the tea garden. (Even her #teadog is still hanging around!) The farm manager who gave us a tour of the farm had great stories of Beverly's influence.

The most memorable was from 2011, when Beverly first began working with the diversifying estate. She started to experiment with small-batch, hand-rolled teas: completely unheard of in Sri Lanka, where commodity tea had always ruled.

Everyone at the tea garden and in the village thought she was crazy. They don't think so now, as Amba Estate's beautiful, hand-crafted teas have become sought-after in even the highest-quality international markets.


See Amba Estate through Beverly's eyes: footage from ATR 2014.

While even the smallest commodity tea factories in Sri Lanka produce a ton of tea a day, Amba Estate only makes 10kg of finished tea a day. Even with this small output, they are able to earn more than enough thanks the Amba team's intense dedication to quality. 


Amba Estate's signature tea: OP1 With Tea Flowers




To ensure quality, the team keeps detailed records of the teas (pictured left), and have created specialized tools. The hand-roller (pictured right) is made from the wood of a local flowering tree that makes great honey. The wood subtly accentuates the tea's flavor during processing.




In addition to tea, the estate also grows tropical fruits and spices, which helps biodiversity and provides added revenue. Pictured here are black pepper pods, bordering the tea fields. The quaint guesthouse, with impeccable service, also helps bring more exposure to the once-failing estate and its amazing teas.



Beverly was only with the estate for four years, but her passion and creativity with tea have made a lasting impression. The Amba Estate team continues to handcraft amazing teas with sustainable agriculture. Keep your eyes on Amba Estate and the other small producers of Sri Lanka: they are only beginning to show the world their true potential.