Tea Virgins | Daily News

Tea Virgins

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Award winning tea

Everywhere you go in Sri Lanka, it's is different and yet one thing remains the same and that is - a welcoming cup of Ceylon tea and an incredible story of how it was created.

Centuries ago, the ancient Chinese employed only 'virgin' women in the production of white tea. It's a bit hard to find enough virgins for an operation like that today but that doesn't stop niche tea planter and entrepreneur Herman Gunaratne from producing the world's best Virgin White Tea. The magic happens on his low country Handunugoda Estate only thirty-five minutes from Galle Fort. The tea gets its name from the buds whitish appearance caused by the minute silvery-white hairs that grow on it.

The process apparently is not that different from normal tea making but Herman would like, not surprisingly, to keep it a secret. Equipped with numerous medicinal properties and a unique taste, white tea is a rare commodity that is produced in very small amounts every month, but it fetches up to US$1,500 per kilo. If your pockets are deep enough, you can buy it exclusively at the world's most glamorous tea shop in France, Mariage Frères, which is also one of the oldest, set up in Paris in 1854.

Natural High

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Hands at the museum

Herman knew when his tea was sent off to be tested for its qualities in Switzerland and came out better than most found in China he was in his own words "cooking on gas." So go on, head south and experience his tea process and take a walk through these amazing plantations, view the museum and I guarantee you will come away feeling you are floating on gas. This is a natural high that has put Sri Lanka on the world map as a premier place for making tea.

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Kids learning about tea

Sitting back on his chair sampling different teas with delicious homemade chocolate cake and Herman explaining the differences in how they are made. He talks about the island he loves so much, politics and his passions explaining, "I have spent a lifetime in tea and found that the human story of the industry has amazingly not been told." So now he has created a tea museum with all sorts of fascinating things to look at and even a place to try tea cuisine. "This is my final homage to the industry, that is this island's lifeblood", and as anyone who knows this incredible character will know this is certainly not his last visionary act just another accolade in his brilliant career as both a tea maker and mischievous writer.

Fascinating World

Herman Gunaratne is as well known for his great tea as his writing due to his much acclaimed books - The Suicide Club and The Plantation Raj - both page turners, which give you unique insights into the fascinating world of tea making. The Suicide Club is the extraordinary story of his painstaking rise through the ranks from tea-plucker to estate manager, the working culture of the time, the influence of the British and some strange serendipitous happenings that tipped the balance between good and evil will entertain and amuse you from beginning to end.

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Museum with the human factor

The name of the book is a nod to his grandfather's presidency of the Suicide Club, where entire estates and fortunes were lost overnight. His estate is a mile from the Indian Ocean, making it the closest tea plantation in the world to the sea and the land is rich in gemstones, and when I ask him why he does not join the gem world. His response with his usual twinkly eyes is that nothing is more valuable than ones health.

So if you want to learn the secret to living well and staying healthy do visit Handunugoda Estate Tittagalla near Ahangama, and call on 94773290999 or 94777713999 in advance to do a tour of this amazing estate and Hemminway like character, who is appearing in my next book '101 Unforgettable Experiences island wide'.