The making of Ceylon’s famed black tea: BBC documentary photographer Schmoo Theune sees for himself


BBC documentary photographer Schmoo Theune travelled to Sri Lanka recently to see how “the cultivation and selling of black tea has shaped the lives of generations of Sri Lankans since 1867”.

He notes that “almost 5% of the population of Sri Lanka work in the billion-dollar tea industry, picking leaves on the mountain slopes and processing the tea in plantation factories”.

And he says that “Ceylon tea is not just an export, it is an essential part of Sri Lankan daily life, consumed by office workers, labourers, students, and everyone in-between”.


He learned that altitude affects the flavour of the tea, with higher altitudes producing a more delicately flavoured crop. This is more highly valued than the robustly flavoured tea produced at lower elevations.

Tea buds must be picked by hand every seven to 14 days, before the leaves grow too tough, while tea bushes on mountain slopes are situated above the barracks-style housing which each plantation provides for its workers.

The leaves are weighed throughout the day and a tea-picker earns 600 Sri Lankan Rupees (LKR), which is approximately £2.70, if they reach the desired quota of 18kg a day.


Some of the houses the workers live in were built by the British during a housing boom in the 1920s when about 20,000 rooms were built for tea-pickers.

The buildings have changed little since. Families raise their children in a village setting in colourful barracks-style houses.

Many buildings only have electricity or running water for a few hours each day, or do not have them at all, while many daily tasks such as washing or bathing are carried out in streams and rivers.

Read more here.

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