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Tea and Coffee Trips:
the New Trend in Tourism
By Patricia Sanchez

Themed travel has become the new way to vacation; whether your trip is geared towards wine tasting, eco-adventures or epicurean itineraries. Just as educational and seeped in luxury is the advent of tea and coffee tourism, where visitors can experience firsthand what is like to wake up to a rolling field of coffee beans or a sprawling estate of tea shrubs.

If handpicking tea leaves in the hills of Munnar, India or watching local farmers roast coffee in Africa is your idea of a perfect vacation, you’re in luck. Now, on nearly every continent, it’s possible to incorporate tea and coffee activities into your vacation. Tea & Coffee Trade Journal explores the destinations for tea and coffee tourism, which farms to visit and places you can book accommodations on the plantation itself for a relaxing, tea and coffee infused trip.

About 200 years ago, tea planters brought teas back from China and India to Summerville, South Carolina, one of the only tea plantations in the U.S. It was used as a research facility by Thomas J. Lipton. R.C. Bigelow purchased and re-opened the plantation in 2003 after the re-stored and “fine-tun[ed]” it to make it visitor-friendly.” The Bigelow plantation hosts several events throughout the year such as the first flush event, where guests can try the first batch of fresh tea right off the plantation and observe the beginnings of the American tea industry while learning the tea growing process. At the factory, video presentations are shown to convey an in-depth understanding of tea processing and equipment use. During a narrated bus tour of the Bigelow farm, guests are encouraged to explore the grounds “surrounded by tea shrubs” to “encounter more trees with Spanish moss and more tea - as far as the eye can see.”

The Magnolia Plantation Gardens carries with it the history of Charleston and Summerville. Visitors blend in with the residents as they sip iced tea and walk the streets shopping for memories to take home with them. The tour concludes with a formal dinner at the Woodlands Inn after an afternoon tea at the Wickliffe House. Guests then retire to a 1906 mansion (although re-stored, the mansion still contains remnants of the early 20th century details). Surrounded by 42 acres, the five-star, five-diamond resort includes a fireplace, “lavish” baths, dining, heated pool, tennis, croquet, day spa and bikes provided for riding. Reservations for groups and events are welcome. For further information, hours and directions, visit www.bigelow.com or call +1 (843) 559-0383.

The Xishuangbanna and neighboring tea culture tour is a seven-day exploration throughout the mountainous caravans and villages, mapping the historical presence of tea on the Chinese map. Following the winding path, one will stumble upon Mount Nan Nuo, home of an ancient tea plantation over 800-years-old. Guests may sample roasted tea from this region. Juangmai, another plantation of over 800-years-old is available for viewing, as tourists meet the remarkable Pu people who are said to be the first to domesticate the wild tea tree plant for drinking. The Banwei village is home to tea tree bread of both wild and domestic varieties, which are aged over 1,000 years. This is said to have “proved that local ethnic groups started to plant tea for drinking as early as 1,000 years ago.” The mountains of Bada call visitors forth to view the “King of the wild tea tree” which has been standing for over 1,700 years. Simao, an ancient tea caravan skims the ridged mountains of the region while stopping by homes of families who once housed tea transporters in hostels. The excursion continues with a tour of the tea factory in Simao along with a full view of the plantation near Daduyan. With a panoramic view of the jungle, guests travel to the Yiww, where the locals traditionally produce pu’er tea. Later, guests sample traditionally prepared “wrap-charcoaled tea and salad tea” in the village of Jinuo. Slightly longer trips include a hike to Jiujia of Zhenyuan to view the oldest wild tea tree in the world (over 2,700 years old). Overnight accommodations vary by hotel, host families and local guesthouses. Packages are provided by Xishuangbanna China International Travel Service. For details call +00 86 691 2129977 or email bncits@hotmail.com.

Another excursion throughout China’s tea gardens is the well-rounded tour for both novice and experienced tea drinkers alike, sponsored by The Tea House. Take a moment to pick and hand-make your own tea during an elaborate 14-day excursion. Learn about tea cultural practice at the university of tea and engage in a guided factory tour. During the trip, guests can meet with experts in the trade productions and enjoy freshly made samples. Then, you can venture to numerous tea houses, which hospitably serve exquisite teas throughout famous tea producing areas. Later, participate in a traditional tea ceremony in addition to creating a teapot of you own, with hands on instructions and a master class. The journey presumes with a tour of the teapot factory and museum and then leads participants to the traditional Chinese medical hospital where tea experts are present for consolation. Finally participation in the annual tea conference concludes the event. For tours and dates, call +1(630) 961-0877 or go to www.theteahouse.com/tourpage.htm.

Off the mountainside of Boquete lies The Coffee Estate Inn. By staying at the Boquete Hotel La Montana y el Valle, one can learn about coffee cultivation within a lush, mountainous region of Panama. Staying two nights or more includes a tour of the estate lead by the co-owner of the estate himself, Barry. He shares his knowledge of coffee culture “from the tree to the cup.” This portion of the trip concludes with a roasting demonstration, providing an opportunity for participation in the roasting process and individual packaging. “Deluxe accommodations” are provided in scenic bungalows overlooking the valley. Purposely exclusive and “designed for privacy, amenities include wireless internet, front parking, a library, maid service and a private six-acre park.” The overall rate includes a nature tour, breakfast, fresh coffee (roasted daily) and homemade breads, scones and fruits. For reservations, visit www.coffee-estate.com.

The Finca Lerida Estate is one of the oldest, most traditional coffee estates, surrounded by optimum conditions for growing premium, Arabica coffee. Cherry picking daily, observing the meticulous wet process, sun drying, storing and aging in wooden silos are all part of the coffee process open for observation to guests. Known for patenting the coffee siphon, invented by Tollef B. Mönniche, the plantation still uses the original processing plant on display using water, gravity and the siphoning method to produce award-winning coffee. This visit includes an “in depth,” interactive tour for learning. The education includes cupping and roasting. For accommodations, Finca Lerida Ecolodge is ideal, located in the center of the plantation in one of the most bio-diverse, forested regions of Panama. Private baths and porches with exclusive views overlooking the forest and plantation are available. There is a coffee house on sight offering home-cooked meals. As an alternative, Finca Bed and Breakfast, an original vintage family house designed with a Scandinavian touch, has suites equipped with a fireplace, living room and private bath. Breakfast is included with the room rate. To learn more about the Finca Lerida estate, call +1(507) 720-2285 or email info@fincalerida.com.

From the Kiambu and Murang district’s coffee plantations, to the tea plantations in Kericho’s district of the rift valley province in Kenya, a tour is offered that encompasses many aspects of tea and coffee tourism. This trip goes from one of the largest producers of tea in Kenya; the Brooke Bond Company plantation to the coffee plantations of Munen, Koorali and Nyakinyua. The website, www.tourtokenya.com, describes Kenya’s tea and coffee plantations to be “romantic with a dark history.” Adding to the mood are the onsite “heritage hotels,” available for overnight stays, that were built out of older mansions. Itineraries are flexible and customized according to your personal interest. More information can be found at www.tourtokenya.com or by calling +1(800) 235-0289.

Coffee and dairy farm tours in Kiambu reveal the inner workings of the coffee industry, right down to the delicate seed bed. The highly informative vacation package involves consultation with management about coffee growing, which includes the fumigation process in action both manually and mechanically, the picking process and a tour of the local factory to observe cleaning procedures as well as grading and packaging. The tour concludes with lunch at the Windsor hotel, located adjacent to the coffee farm. Then drive along the coffee belt of Kenya to Nairobi for an overnight stay and an intoxicating view of Africa’s one-of-a-kind sunsets.

The “farmers’ safari special” offers 15 days of sightseeing through the vast plains of Africa. Here, three days are spent in the tea and coffee regions; Kiambu, an area rich in tea, the coffee plantations in Meru and Kericho, the “highest tea producing zone in east Africa.” Within these regions, visitors learn about tea production and the people of the area. Accommodations such as food and transportation are included in the itinerary, which is available to be tailored into the safari voyage of your dreams. With the assistance of an online booking form, “special interest packages” are created for every budget. More information may be obtained by visiting www.widescopetours.com.

An alternative to the dry landscapes of Africa is the Magwa Tea Estate near the coast of the Mbotyi River. This estate is known for its surrounding topography of hills, gorges and a breathtaking waterfall on-site. The public is welcome to get a firsthand glimpse of the tea growing process, upon request. According to estate manager, Ian Crawford, Magwa is the last major tea producer in South Africa. Accommodations are provided at the Mbotyi River Lodge with amenities featuring a balcony or patio views of the sea, forest or lagoon. Mbotyi River Lodge’s rooms are said to be “up market” and “cozy” with institute bathrooms. In addition, some cabins may contain extra conditioning, television and a bar fridge. Rates per day come with meals and prices vary with season. Visit www.mbotyi.co.za/act_plant.html for more information.

The Limuru Country and tea plantation tour, built by two English families during the 1900s on the Kiambethu Tea Estate, includes lunch and afternoon tea along with a lecture on the area and tea production. The tour includes an afternoon walk through the tea plantations and forests to observe the preferred tea growing conditions. This package, made for two, consists of a hotel pick-up form Nairbi, Kenya and all entry fees, services, a multi lingual English-speaking tour guides who are also experts in wildlife Kenyan culture and tour guiding, to name a few.

Also worth the visit while in Limuru are the Kisii Coffee and tea farms where you get to meet farmers and visit a local tea processing factory. The tour includes lunch at a hotel, free airport pickup, full board accommodations and an English-speaking driver. Travel on a safari minibus with an open roof, perfect for a flawless perception of Africa’s open spaces, without the worry of driver allowances, park fees and taxes.

The tour to Rwanda gives a great sense of the political influence as well as the historical aspects of the coffee trade as part of the educational getaway. Learn about the entire coffee process from beginning to end, including visits to farm communities for a chance to interact with the farmers themselves. Part of the focus of the tour is to illuminate the historical impact on the local residents regarding the country’s economics and politics. This trip is sponsored by Java Ventures. Details and booking for the event are available through http://www.javaventures.com or by calling +1(415) 824-1484.

Sri Lanka
With a long history behind its colonization, scientific discovery and development, the Kew Gardens are a magnificent place to visit and gain exposure to tea planting. Thanks to the moist air of the Ceylon hill country, conditions for tea growing are not only ideal but also a botanists dream come true. The Kew Gardens include plantations of coffee and tea amongst other imported resources as well. But the highlight is the over 300 million kilos/year that the gardens produces. Dilmah Tea provides the “renovated planter’s bungalows” within the estates, located in the upper portion of the valley also known as “the golden valley of tea” for an overnight stay. Norwood Bungalows offers another option that is said to be secluded and intimate with a terrace, four-course dinners, fireplace and cocktails. Accommodations can also be made at the Tea Trails with full board amenities. Those staying at the historically acclaimed Tea factory Hotel, located off the slopes of the tea plantations of Kandapola, will find the 1930s establishment to be as memorable as the history that it represents. While fulfilling a sense of what tea production was like in the 20th century, the facility has a mini factory inside for guests to process their self-plucked tea. The hotel has a restaurant and bar, serving five-course meals, featuring Western and Eastern cuisine.

The Sri Lankan Nature Trek serves the adventurous spirit who doesn’t mind walking 4,000 feet above the tea estates and throughout the Summit of Hunas Giriya. Shortly after arriving in Nuwara Eliya, a region particularly known as the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea country, a succession of tea estates await to be explored. Amongst the waterfalls and tea gardens of Pinnawela, scenes of terrace tea cultivation appear. After a long day of traveling and sightseeing, the St. Claire tea estate restaurant awaits guests with a fine cup of fresh tea. But before the journey ends, Nuwara Eliya’s lakes, terrace farms and tea gardens off the slopes are ventured before visitors are off to Colombo for its famous filter coffee and a day of bazaar shopping for quality, low cost tea and coffee. This 15-day journey includes entrance fees, English-speaking drivers, air-conditioned vehicles and local trekking guides, and can be customized according to attractions and budget. Go to Red Dot Travel for booking information at www.reddottours.com/SpecialistHolidays/HolidayItineraries/WildlifeJourneys.php.

The Kandy tea plantation and factory and the Nuwara Eliya tea plantation and factory offers a thorough learning experience, revealing the process of tea grading and manufacturing with a six to eight-day stays at the famous Tea Factory Inn.

Entering the Hills of the Dickoya region of central Sri Lanka, the tea-covered highlands at the Ceylon tea trails, the plucking field and factory all emanates the fresh aroma of Ceylon tea. From planter bungalows amongst the plantations, observe the tea growing process first hand, by guides available on demand. All properties include full board, air conditioning, English-speaking drivers and tour guides and entrance fees (there are no proposed fees for the tea tour). Accommodation options are available at the Sherwood refurbished bungalow located directly on a working plantation. Sit in the surrounding garden or by the fireplace with a cup of Ceylon’s finest tea. This trip is good for families and small groups. The Tea Trails, Hill Country also offers bungalow accommodations in Castlereagh, Norwood, Teintsin and Summerville, which are lakeside and in the center of the tea growing highlands. With the “highest standards of old-world luxury” and of course, plenty of Ceylon tea, this is surely a tea-lovers dream. For further details on any of these Sri Lanka tour packages, go to www.tourism-srilanka.com/traveltour-package-sri-lanka/.

The tea gardens and backwaters of North India are said to be one of 50 “‘must see places in a lifetime”’ in National Geographic Traveler Magazine’s, Millennium issue. Locations of India explored are Cochin, Munnar, Peryar Kumarkon and Kerala River. From Cochin, the adventure begins on the way to Munar’s tea gardens for a tour. Then a morning visit to Periyar, an area famous for its coffee and tea plantations. This drive through the tea plantations and interspersed coffee estates provides a subtle introduction to the luscious grounds before moving into the backwaters of India. A mellow and romantic ride along Kerala’s smooth waters leads through the wildlife into an ancient harbor. The Trident Hilton (silver) or Taj Malabar (gold) are both available for an overnight stay. Options to create custom packages are available on www.transindiaholidays.co.uk/tea-gardens-and-backwaters.htm, or by contacting Trans India Holidays at +91 11 29234617.

The Glenburn Tea Estate, near Darjeeling is a 400-acre coffee estate with scenic treks and views of the inner workings of the coffee estate from planting, harvesting the cherries, cultivation and curing. A bungalow stay provides a homey feel for the occasion. The Windemere Estate in Munnar has a manicured tea garden, along with a 60-acre cardamom plantation. For more information, visit www.windermeremunnar.com/index.htm.

At the Tea & Coffee World Cup/AMERICAS, which took place in January 2008 in Miami Beach, Florida, tea tourism in India was a “hot” topic of conversation. Manik Jayakumar of QTrade Tea and Herbs and Sarah Scarborough of Fair Trade Teas, helped us gather some useful information. According to Scarborough, “The Bengal state government has recently pledged 3.89 crore to develop an integrated tea tourism circuit in Bengal,” which implies that the Indian government has seen the popularity of tea and coffee tourism and has made big strides at ensuring its continued success. Scarborough continues, “On average, cottage tariffs range between $130 and $900/day. The Hila and Mohua tea estates in the Dooars, both run by the West Bengal Tea Development Corporation have been identified as the sites where infrastructure for tourism will be built. Some amenities will be set up at the Murti estate as well.”

Raj Basu, president of the Eastern Himalayan Travel and Tour Operators’ Association, explains, “If the government had understood its role as a facilitator and worked towards creating infrastructure (like roads and electricity) and human resources for developing an entire tea-tourism circuit with the participation of the private planters, the money would have benefited the state.” He continues, “If an entire circuit was developed, we could have created infrastructure to entertain 3,000 tourists at a time. But instead, the government chose to do it alone in its own gardens. Now, the benefits will be too insignificant to contribute to the overall growth of North Bengal.”

“About two years ago, I was asked to prepare a project proposal by the district administration for funds,” said Manoj Chamaria, the managing director of Phanskhowa Tea Estate, which was once selected for the tea tourism pilot project.

Chamong Tee Exports, Pty., the largest producers of Darjeeling tea, have recently upgraded their Tumsong Estate bungalow to five-star standards; thus marking their foray into tea tourism. For $250-$300/person/night, travelers can enjoy an eco-tea adventure including airport transfer, food, lodging and tea tours, tasting and plucking at one of Darjeeling’s most stunning organic tea estates. For more information, contact chamong@snonline.com.

The best time to explore tea production in Darjeeling is from April to November. The spring, or first flush of Darjeeling teas comes on in April and the Autumnal, and the fourth and last flush harvest is completed at end of November. If, however, you are after a clear day with awesome views of the Himalayas, trekking and a cup of Darjeeling’s finest, the best times to travel are during the dry season - December and January.

Patricia Sanchez is a former intern at Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. She graduated from University of California Santa Cruz.

Tea & Coffee - May, 2008

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