Month: March 2014

Carolina: its past, its presents and its black tea

View of the Seven Virgin Hills from the Agarawatta Division Courtesy of Bhagya Senaratne
View of the Seven Virgin Hills from the Agarawatta Division Courtesy of Bhagya Senaratne

The hill country terrain has always been an escape from the tropics for the local and foreign visitors alike. When passing through the mountain ranges, the travellers are able to view picturesque clusters of green spread throughout the hills, which makes up the high end, up country, tea plantations of Sri Lanka. This picturesque view has always been a breathtaking sight to any visitor, who enjoys the splendours of the hill country.

With the temperature dropping to an average low, and with road-bends which are sure to make some travellers slightly giddy, makes up half the experience while on the Avissawella/Hatton/Nuwara Eliya Highway (A7 road). But with the clearing of the foliage when passing through Ginigathhena, the clusters of green start to appear, and with a sight such as that makes the long bending journey certainly worthwhile.

Tea plantation was introduced by the British during the existence of their colonial rule of Ceylon. A visitor being able to visit one of the tea factories built during that rule and reminisce the colonial era is of course an opportunity which definitely should not be missed.

Apart from the scenic view on the A7 road, the perceptive traveller will come across the historical Carolina Tea Factory operated by the management of Carolina Estate which is owned by Watawala Plantations PLC. This is one of the first tea factories to be seen located at Watawala while on the said A7, and which is located passing the Diyagala Junction. And interesting enough the management of Carolina Estate allows visitors to visit this historical land mark and the management is more than happy to share the history of this age-old factory and the estate.

Carolina Tea Company of Ceylon Limited incorporated in 1892 was one of the pioneer tea companies in the country, set up primarily to plant tea. It consisted of a group of plantations situated in Lower Dickoya, which were Agarawatte, Carolina, Kandawella, Mount Jean, Wigton, Udeapola Group, Trafalgar, Goarfell and St.Margaret Estates. The Management of this group that was originally with Leechman and Company changed to Mackwoods Estates and Agencies Limited at a later date. According to the Times of Ceylon Green Book of 1939, this group had over 1,000 hectares in tea.

The Carolina tea factory was one of the original ‘central factories’ constructed closer to the shores of the Mahaweli river that flows by the estate. John Walker, who was the founder of the present Colombo firms, Walker Sons and Company and Walker and Greig, had by then acquired much prominence as a designer of plantation machinery. Therefore the task of planning and equipping the Carolina Factory was entrusted on him.

This factory was built in 1932 and it was indeed an improvement compared to some of the other factories at that time, by having mud free floors and cadjan roofs. The building was constructed with wood, which was assembled firmly on stone pillars. It had three floors going up to the height of 42 feet from the ground to the ridge. The novelty was that very often than not, the green leaf arrived by train. The factory had sufficient capacity to accommodate all the leaf not only from the group, but from many other adjoining plantations who were satisfied with a return of 9 cents (about 2p) per pound. Currently, with modifications being done to the factory and the machinery over the years, the factory can boast of its high accommodation capacity of 22,000 kilo grams of green leaves even today, and manufactures black tea subject to the Cut Tear Curl (CTC) manufacturing process.

At the time the plantations were nationalised, Carolina group had in all 1023 hectares with 579 hectares in tea, however other subsidiary crops such as cinnamon and vanilla had been planted on this property by then. Currently the Carolina Estate consists of Agarawatte, Carolina, Kadawala, Trafalgar and Binoya Divisions consisting of 892.42 hectares and 216.25 hectares are of tea while the other extents consist of cinnamon, vanilla and areca nut.

Carolina Estate Images

Amongst the lush cultivations exists the scenic mountain ranges coupled with pine forests and ever flowing waterfalls which are at times hidden behind the mist yet emerge at times to amaze the un-expecting traveller with the beauty of Carolina.

With the change in times and the demand for upcountry black tea ever so increasing it has been quite difficult for the plantation sector to keep up in this industry especially with the difficulty in hiring labour to work in the fields, whilst ensuring that the demands for the supply of high quality, upcountry black tea are met. Matters get even difficult as explained by Mr. Prasanna Premachandra, the Manager of Carolina Estate when individuals encroach on these estate lands ignoring proper legal procedures and thereby claiming rights over these lands which have been leased out by the government to plantation companies such as Watawala Plantations PLC.

With plenty of tasks and obstacles at hand it is quite commendable to see that the management of Carolina Estate is able to ensure that the manufacture of black tea runs smoothly and the standards of upcountry black tea are met.

The Estate takes pride in its all time records for PF1, BPS and BP1 tea grades and also has won many awards, and has obtained numerous certifications and some of which being HACCP and ISO 22000 certification. The Carolina Estate has also partnered with Ethical Tea Partnership which is a non-profit membership organisation that works with tea producers and tea companies to improve the sustainability of the tea industry.

Visitors are welcome to reminisce the past of the Carolina Estate, explore the scenic presents that Carolina has to offer and of course enjoy that excellent cup of black tea while at the Carolina factory by contacting Watawala Plantations PLC on 011-4702400.

This article was published on DailyMirror Life and