How tea was invented remains an enigma.
Chinese legend holds that Emperor Shen Nung was about to sip some boiling water when some leaves from a bush fluttered in the wind and landed in his pan.
Indians believe Boddhidharma, a Buddhist monk, ate some leaves from a tree and discovered its medicinal effects when they assuaged his seven-year long fatigue. Boddhidharma also made his way into a Japanese myth, but in this one, he became vexed and dropped his drooping eyelids on the ground, and tea bushes grew from where they fell.
No matter its origin, tea is the world’s second most famous beverage (the first being water), and it has fueled the economy, ignited raging battles, and has been the premier guest at sophisticated gatherings worldwide.
Making one pound of tea requires nearly five pounds of fresh tealeaves—almost 200 cups’ worth—and about 35 billion pounds of leaves are harvested in one year, almost entirely by hand. If a single whiff of tea aroma conjures a splendid phantasmagoria of vintage tea sets, tea parties, or afternoons at the Ritz, make sure to stroll about a tea plantation.
According to the Tea Association of the USA, 36 countries around the world have tea plantations, and they usually can be found in tropical or subtropical climates and high altitudes, so you can enjoy an exotic vacation, as well as a “cuppa.”
The largest tea exporters in the world are India, Sri Lanka, China, and Kenya. Myriad tea plantations offer day trip and tours, and an increasing number of them offer overnight experiences.
Goomtree Tea Resort, India
The popular Darjeeling tea originates from India, a region nestled in the bottom of the Himalaya. Tea enthusiasts can visit the modest-sized Goomtree Tea Resort, where you can stay at their four-bedroom Heritage Bungalows and enjoy a private tea experience.
On the tea garden and factory tour, you watch workers pick leaves during the March-to-November harvesting season and learn how raw leaves are fashioned into tasty tea. A private chef prepares Indian, American and Chinese meals, and you sip tea that was gathered the day prior.
Though the accommodations are rustic and remote—with phones that don’t make international calls—you’re sure to have a relaxing vacation. One option you might skip includes listening to Nepali music and watching a dance by “garden children” (as the web site calls them) for $40. Otherwise, rates are $125 per night for double occupancy, and the Darjeeling Visit, probably a better bet for your time and money, is $60. www.darjeelingteas.com
Ceylon Tea Trails, Sri Lanka
Located in the Bogawantalawa Valley of central Sri Lanka nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, the Ceylon Tea Trails has a cluster of four colonial-style bungalows originally built for British estate managers. Following the official Planter in Residence, you trek through dense jungle and walk along the trail of the planters of old Ceylon.
Watch tea pluckers gather leaves and then head to the tea factory, where the leaves are dried and processed. Other activities include viewing jungle fowl on a bird-watching expedition, golfing, biking, kayaking, white-water rafting, or boating on the lake. Access to this region can be a bit difficult, but the most common choice is to rent a car and hire a driver because the Colombo capital is about three hours away. Rates start at $192.50 for per night for double occupancy. www.teatrails.com
The Tea House, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka
For an experience with a heap of intensi-tea, embark on a journey through India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka offered by this Illinois-based teahouse. Owner Dan Robertson doubles as the leader on these tours, and due to their continuing popularity, he has run them for 12 years. You’ll head to ancient cities, extravagant temples and palaces, and historic landmarks.
The tour will take you to famous tea-producing locales, like Nilgiri, Darjeeling and Assam, and you even can learn first-hand how to pick and make your very own tea. For those interested in the business side of tea, you’ll visit the offices of Lochan Tea Ltd., a major tea trader. Watch an auction and place a bid if your fancy is struck by a particular tea. The tour costs $4,500 and lasts 14 days. (630) 961-0877; www.theteahouse.com/tourpage.htm
Kiambethu Tea Estate, Kenya
Although you may associate Kenya with coffee, it is the world’s third-largest tea producer. If you’re one of those hardy travelers visiting Kenya, consider taking a half-day tour of a tea plantation.
At this estate, located 7,000 feet above sea level, you can enjoy lunch and afternoon tea. The Estate also offers a lecture on the area and about tea production. Later, you walk through the tea plantations and forests. The tour costs $80 per person. www.AfricanMeccaSafaris.com
Charleston Tea Plantation, South Carolina
If you only have some loose change jingling in your pocket or don’t have time to squeeze an Asian or African excursion into your schedule, don’t fret. The Bigelow Tea’s plantation on Wadmalaw Island is the only one in the country to grow and produce tea in America—American Classic Tea.
Hundreds of thousands of tea bushes flourish on the plantation’s 127-acres, and you can view how they make their tea through a 125-foot long window gallery. Finish your visit off with a full serving of real Southern hospitality with a glass of iced tea. Tours are available throughout the week. 888-BIGELOW, www.bigelowtea.com
Taking a trip to Charleston area? Don’t miss our Off-the-Brochure Travel Guide to Charleston, South Carolina.
If your schedule only allows you to sip a cup of tea at home, then poke around your city or town for a local teahouse or hotel, where you can indulge in afternoon tea or a tea tasting. Here are a few you may want to check out:
Imperial Tea Court
1411 Powell Street, San Francisco 415-788-6080
Located in Chinatown, it supposedly is the first traditional Chinese teahouse in the country, and it boasts hundreds of teas from China. Roy Fong, owner and proprietor, once served as Head of Research & Development for the International Tea Masters Association, where he served several years directing and supervising the award-winning “Lotus Heart” Dragon Well tea program, so you can rest assured his collection of tea won’t disappoint.
The Dunbar Tea Shop
1 Water Street, Sandwich, Cape Cod 508-833-2485
What was once a billiard and gentlemen’s smoking room, this tearoom offers customers a cozy experience where they can enjoy tea and sweets—even British ales and European wines, if you’re tea-tired—all year long. In the winter, tea tipplers congregate near the fireplace, but in the summer, they can kick back and relax in the tea garden.
The Painted Lady
327 East Fifth Street, Marysville, Ohio 937-644-0009
For a classy, linen-and-lace tea extravaganza, sip on some tea (pinkies up!) in one of nine tearooms in this three-story Victorian home. This month, they have “A Rainy Day in Paris” event, and next month, treat Mom to “Mother’s Day Tea & Roses.” For those young at heart, they also have Red Hat Society events.
Le Palais des Thés
401 North Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 310-271-7922
With locations in scattered in Paris, Brussels, Strasburg, Oslo, Beverly Hills and Tokyo, among others, this posh tea store offers rare teas and tea accessories from all over the world, as well as tastings at their tea bar. For the devout tea connoisseur, you can attend classes at their tea school in France and learn from top chefs how to couple tea with food.
By Sarika Chawla and Monique-Marie DeJong for PeterGreenberg.com.
Want to bring the world’s teas to your doorstep? Check out Global Gourmet: Food Gifts From Around the World.
Don’t miss the rest of our Culinary Travel section for more foodie adventures around the world.
Looking for another place to get a great “cuppa?” Find one with our Off-the-Brochure Travel Guide to London, England.
But did you know that there’s a Tea & Coffee Museum in Amsterdam? Check out our Off-the-Brochure Travel Guide to Amsterdam, Netherlands.