Sniffing, slurping, and sloshing, Michael Edwards learns to taste tea at Rosyth Estate House
We are working our way from left to right across five sampling cups of tea. Each brewed precisely, some for three minutes, others for four minutes, for the optimum length of time for that tea. Though each is from the same species of tea trees on the Rosyth Estate House, Kegalle, around two hours north of Colombo’s airport.
Jonathan, who studied Tea Technology for four years at university, and now overseas tea production at Rosyth Estate House, is our guide. His credentials are impressive. Previously working for a tea exporter, he sometimes tasted 500 to 600 teas a day. No need for tea breaks with that job.
On our crash course in tea-tasting we are learning to look out for aroma, leaf-size, colour of the liquid, colour of any rim around the cup and after taste. Steadily we are building a tea-taster’s critical vocabulary, “floral notes … fragrantly fresh … a lingering bitter aftertaste.”
Neil Dobbs, Rosyth Estate House’s co-owner points, out a delicate pinkish rim on the fifth and final cup. Impressive for a man who didn’t drink tea until five years ago. Growing up, he hated the milky, sugary tea that his mother gave him. But when Farzana, his Sri Lankan born wife, inherited 62 acres of overgrown tea and rubber plantation from her father, he thought that he ought to acquire a taste for tea. “Now I look forward to a cup of tea every afternoon,” says Neil who takes his artisan tea without milk.
Rosyth Estate House tea is targeting the very apogee of the tea market. Traditionally tea pluckers picked two leafs and a bud. Rosyth’s ladies, their colourful saris dotted through the tea terraces, pick just one leaf and bud. After early morning plucking the ladies hand-roll the tea leafs in the factory to produce a superior artisan tea. Profit-sharing at this social enterprise factory will better reward them for their labours than many of their contemporaries working long hours in the fields for the minimum wage.
Initially, the Dobbs focused on restoring the original 1926 bungalow, creating comfortable accommodation, and building the dining pavilion. On arrival, with typically warm Sri Lankan hospitality guests are welcomed with a cup of ginger tea and a foot massage. Few guests resist the temptation to sign-up for further massages at Rosyth Estate House’s spa.
Then the suites and the commanding uber-luxurious Rock Villa were built. A path through clove trees, wrapped with pepper creeper, and then more tea trees lead to the Tea and Pepper suites. Both have commanding views over a plunging valley towards a craggy mist-garlanded peak. Although the interior rooms house rainfall showers, deep baths sit on the secluded patios giving prime valley views.
Tempted by the Sri Lankan fare offered in the Dining Pavilion, guests can opt to take a cookery class with the chefs. In true Sri Lankan style, pupils choose a chicken, fish or vegetarian curry with a selection of three or four side dishes.
Almost all ingredients are sourced from Rosyth Estate House’s organic kitchen gardens, protected from a growing troupe of monkeys by both electric fences and netting. On a guided walk around the estate, naturalist Hetti points out where many of the key ingredients grow wild: pandum leaves, ginger and nutmeg. Acquiring a taste for Rosyth’s take on Sri Lankan food, graduates of the cookery course take home a copy of the Rosyth Estate House recipe book to expand their repertoire.
In contrast to Rosyth’s guests, when it comes to culinary tastes, elephants opt for quantity rather than quantity. A 20-minute drive takes guests to the elephants at Pinnawala, who on average consume 150kg of food a day. Hand-feeding elephants a bowl of their favourite fruits is merely a starter. Once the elephant has been fed, visitors walk with an elephant and give a hand with one of the elephant’s thrice daily baths.
Rosyth Estate House is well-placed for a day trip to Kandy and its Temple of the Sacred Tooth. An excursion to Kandy can also take-in a walk around the Royal Botanical Gardens.
Just over two hours from Colombo airport, Rosyth Estate House is perfectly located for the first or last stop on a tour of Sri Lanka. It is a boutique luxury hotel that offer a lot more than just an excellent cup of tea.
Tell Me More About Rosyth Estate House, Kegalle, Sri Lanka
Rosyth Estate House, Pusella, Kegalle, Sri Lanka.
A three-night stay in low season begins from £390 per person, based on two sharing a Classic Room, excluding flights and transfers.