7 June 2015

Tea from the Cameron Highlands

We have had a glut of visitors lately.  The other weekend two friends and colleagues from Astana, now based in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, came to visit.  It was lovely to catch up and, in what I believe is the hallmark of true lifelong friends as opposed to posting acquaintances, we spent a lot of time talking about life as it is now.  That is not to say that we did not reminisce over shared memories, we would not be human if we did not do this, but we were interested and able to find common ground in our new, separate lives too.

Tea along the approach road to the Sungei Palas plantation
Picking with shears on the high slopes (where the machines can't reach)
We only had a day together so we decided to drive them up to the tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands.  We had tried to get to the plantation a few weeks before but been stymied by bank holiday traffic (note do not drive anywhere on a Malaysian Bank Holiday) so the sunny day of the visit looked like the perfect time to take them.  An added benefit was that the highlands can be difficult for visitors to access if they do not have their own transport so it was a place they were only likely to see with us.

Sungei Palas Plantation Village
There are a number of major tea plantations in the Cameron Highlands, they belong to the ‘Boh’ tea company, a common brand in Malaysia.  The most northerly plantation Sungei Palas is a short 2 hour drive from Ipoh taking in a spectacular mountain climb and the more northerly of the fruit farms and visitor attractions along the way.  The weather is noticeably cooler here compared with the lowlands, reminiscent of the English summer weather (ie it rains a lot but is pleasant when sunny).  As you move off the main road and down to the plantation itself the tea becomes the dominant crop on the mountainside.  The plantation is huge, stretching as far as the eye can see.

Visitor's centre and tea rooms
All you ever wanted to know about tea
As we drove down into the valley of the main part of the estate it was possible to see workers harvesting tea on the high, steep slopes that are inaccessible to the mechanised pickers.  The drive down to the visitors centre ran through the small village of estate workers’ huts complete with a prayer room and temple, playing fields, a school, community centre a café and small shop. It was just after lunch when we arrived so we went to the tearooms which are in a purpose built observatory platform giving a commanding view over the estate.  The rooms serve, not surprisingly, tea in many and various forms, pastries and cakes and is pretty good value for money. 

Factory weighbridge (and one of my favourite photos of
the two older children)
Sample testing
After a short break we took a walk around the information display.  The information provided was detailed and interesting, explaining the tea making process from start to finish and providing a lot of background and marketing information on the ‘Boh’ brand, our older kids (8&6) certainly managed to get a lot of information even though they did not read the full content of each poster.  We gave the gift shop (which sold packets of branded tea that are easily bought in our local supermarket) a miss.

Machinery as old as Granny and still going strong
Original brass cutting plate on display
 The real highlight of the visit, however, was a tour around the estate factory.  It was established in 1935 and much of the machinery in use is still original (in design at least if not in components), it was rather like walking into a living museum.  The guided tours were finished by the time we arrived but the factory is so small and the signage and information so detailed that it was not necessary to have a guide. 
Exploring the tea slopes
Once we had finished our brief tour we walked down through the plantations, enjoying a stroll amongst the tea and being out in the sun without the oppressive humidity that we get down in Ipoh at times.  The way back included an obligatory stop at a vegetable and fruit centre.  We will certainly be back (probably with more visitors in tow) and will also make an effort to drive down to the other, larger, plantation where the larger factory will offer a different insight on the tea making business.

Click on the picture for more posts on life in Malaysia.

Ersatz Expat

1 comment:

  1. Nice piece of information.. I was quiet worried about moving to Asian country .. But yeah I found useful information for expats in Malaysia.