|In a word: Refreshing|
|Food: A delicious healthy change|
|Presentation: Simple, elegant, no frills|
|Ambience: Colonial calm|
|Location: A little tea plantation house on the top of a hill overlooking the vibrant green Sri Lankan hills as far as the eye can see|
|Value for money: Absolutely|
|Worth a visit?: Yes, please go a visit these guys, buy as much tea and jam as you can carry in support of the Amba Estate, their business model and the initiatives they support.|
We visited Amba Estate Tea Plantation near Ella in the Uva Central Provence of Sri Lanka on the back of a recommendation from a couple we’d met during our stay at Polwatte House in Kandy. The couple talked about the estate’s ethos for sustainability, organics and community initiatives. I was sold. Amba Estate sounded right up my street so we booked ourselves in for lunch and a tour of the estate.
Amba Estate is situated above the beautiful Ravana Waterfalls, famed in the Ramayana, one of the Indian epics of Hindu mythology, as the site of Sita’s last place of captivity before her rescue from her capturer; Ravana, King of Lanka, by Lord Ram. The Uva Provence of Sri Lanka is home to most of the country’s tea plantations and it’s just stunning; lush and vibrant foliage in every shade of green imaginable.
The story of the estate goes a little like this…
Thamba Arunasalam Pillai came to Sri Lanka in the 1890’s to work on the plantations and after realising that working for someone else wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be, he saved enough money to purchase his own land to start up his own tea plantation. Pillai was way ahead of the times, he built carbon neutral factories with water-powered machinery to process his tea. Pillai was also responsible for building the winding road that we walked up to find the estate, around 8km of it, although it feels considerably more as you wind up the hill in the humid conditions. After the death of Pillai the plantation went to his children and following various family feuds as the company moved through the generations, the estate and factories went into decline and ended in bankruptcy by the mid seventies.
From there, the estate went to a large tea exporter who did little to support the local community, with the plantation workers being the worst paid in the valley and the processing being moved elsewhere. Eventually the plantation fell to the hands of western investors and development experts, and a few years ago to the day-to-day management of Neil Melican and Beverly Wainwright. Beverley is responsible for the brews produced by Amba Estate and sold as Plucky Tea. Plucky Tea is available in selected shops, such as Milk in Colombo, B&Bs and cafes across Sri Lanka and sold outside of Sri Lanka by the likes of Fortnum & Mason, who’ve mark up the tea to a ridiculously expensive £50 for a fancy tin of it!
Whilst the Plucky Tea and Big Bean coffee produced on the estate both have very good reputations; check out tea tasters blog’s such as the Tea Journeyman or Will Clarkson; other produce such as lemongrass, peppercorns, cloves, jams and chutneys are all excellent, the freshly crushed black peppercorns are definitely among the most fragrant and delightfully pungent I have ever tasted.
Through Beverley’s input and the philanthropic nature of the estate management, the fortunes of the estate and that of the communities around it has turned around, the workers on the estate as some of the most well paid and certainly the best looked after in the region.
In terms of community support, aside from employing from the local community and paying their workers a decent wage, the estate offers English lessons to the workers and local children, have a cow sanctuary, and work on various infrastructure projects to improve the lives of those working at Amba and living around Bandarawela.
Mulleriyawa Halfway Home is one of the community initiative that the Amba Estate supports, the home provides long term accommodation and rehabilitation to around 600 women suffering from mental health problems, conditions which still suffer from massive stigma in Sri Lanka. The estate shop sells goods made by the women, and they’re also producing some of the packaging for the tea. It is hoped that the engagement between estate workers, the local community and the women of the halfway home will help to reduce the stigma of mental illness in the local community, improve the wellbeing of the women by providing them with structured and meaningful activities, and maybe even reunite families.
And it’s not just the people who are benefiting from Amba Estate, the organic and sustainable practices implemented by the estate team mean that there are no artificial pesticides, fertilisers or weedicides used on the land. Instead, this beautiful land benefits from naturally pest repelling plants, compost and cow poo from the rescue herd, and weeding by hand along with generous doses of tlc! I truly hope other Sri Lankan producers will follow Amba Estate’s sustainability and organic model, there are already reports of high rates of kidney disease that is being linked to the overuse of fertiliser across the country.
Lunch was delicious!
I was a bit worried as I’d only emailed Neil the morning of our visit to inform him that we’d prefer a vegetarian meal. To our delight, we were seated in front of a huge bowl of salad and large veggie quiche. It was the perfect break from all the curries, dahl, rice or the attempts at western cuisine we’d consumed in previous weeks. And after the couple of hours we spent walking uphill to the estate we’d definitely worked up an appetite and it felt like we’d hit the jackpot now we were at the top, dining on a huge healthy spread in the beautifully restored estate bungalow.
We happily tucked into the large quiche which was rammed full of greens and vegetables from the estate, cooked to perfection; moist with a light pastry which didn’t take over the quiche.
The salad was equally delicious, if not more so; full of herbs and crunchy veggies from the estate garden, served with a very light dressing. Perfect for a hot day on the top of a mountain!
After the tour of the tea plantation, we were treated to a taster of Amba Estate’s Plucky Tea…
Our tea tasting was more like afternoon tea: one green tea, one black tea, and a large chunk of light sponge cake that we layered up with the estate’s selection of jams. The green tea was just how I like it; delicate and fresh, and the papaya passionfruit and mango jams were delicious- made from estate and locally grown fruit, we had to buy a few jars to keep us going during the rest of our stay on the island.
You’re looked after from the moment you step onto the Amba Estate; from our warm greeting, lunch, tour of the estate, chat with Neil as we worked out how much we could feasibly buy from the estate shop to take back home with us, to our tuktuk ride home courtesy of one of the estate workers!
Amba Estate is beautiful, it’s a working tea plantation centered on the restored old estate bungalow and the small tea processing factory, set in the most lush green surroundings on the top of a hill, surrounded by hills as far as the eyes can see. The estate bungalow in small, perfectly proportioned and lovingly restored. You can even stay on the estate as they offer the bungalow as an eco-B&B retreat – check out Amba Estate’s website for details.
Lunch and afternoon tea were served in the front room of the estate bungalow, they were both simple, no-frills affair that let the produce do the talking.
Value for money:
Lunch on the plantation costs 600 Rps per person plus service, which is about £3 each for a freshly prepared lunch using local home grown produce on one of the most ethical and forward thinking tea estates in Sri Lanka.
Amba Estate, Ambadandegama, Bandarawela, BD 90108, Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 5735 75489