When the novelist Henry James wrote that “there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea”, he might have had the Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya in mind.
One of Sri Lanka’s oldest, most traditional and swankiest Hill Country hostelries, it encapsulates—or should that be encupsulates—Noel Coward’s celebrated bon mot: “Wouldn’t it be dreadful to live in a country where they didn’t drink tea?”
Indeed. And in our case, wouldn’t it be dreadful to live in a country that hadn’t invented not just the blissful concoction itself, but thus, as a consequence, its most sublime manifestation: High Tea.
This remnant of British colonial rule—like the Grand Hotel itself—has become a firmly established and essential adjunct to Sri Lanka’s celebrated epicurial diversity.
Cucumber sandwiches, cream scones, a wonderful assortment of delicious cakes and pastries and, of course, the tea itself, brewed to perfection and served in delicate bone china cups…
So when Hassnain Javed, a writer for The Nation in Lahore, found himself in Little England, as Nuwara Eliya is known, it was for high tea at the Grand where “the waiters, elegantly dressed in white attire, moved smoothly and erudite between the tables.
“‘Would you like to have another cup of tea, Sir?’ It was probably the sixth time the waiter inquires me if I want to refill on my cup of tea, and yes due to strong flavor right in line with my tasted buds, I say yes every time.
“The table is beautifully set with white porcelain tableware along with delicious sandwiches, mini burgers and tiny cupcakes of all shapes.
“I was having high tea at the Grand Hotel Nuwara Eliya and I felt as I have entered in the era when Sri Lanka was called Ceylon and ruled by the British some 200 years back.”
City of Light
He notes that Nuwara Eliya, which means ‘City of Light’, was founded in 1846 as a favourite cool climate escape for the British, as well as a home from home where they could grow their native fruit and vegetables.
“It led to the turning point of Sri Lankan sustainable economy by tea bushes plantations in the mountains between Nuwara Eliya and Kandy. This experiment by British was a huge success both in taste and rapid tea bushes growth.
“It was the time when British started planting tea bushes at vast areas and in no time Nuwara Eliya became the tea Capital of Sri Lanka’s Hill country.”
The result being that Cyelon tea from Sri Lanka “is acclaimed to be finest and highest quality tea with its inherent characteristics”, and that Sri Lanka “is second largest tea producer globally … and one of the world leading tea exporter with a share of around 23% of the global demand”.
Read more here.