by Naomi Rosen
Working with tea has allowed me to meet some of the most intriguing people. These people always have common traits:
- a passion and drive to spread the good tea word
- they are attempting to provide a stable, and sustainable, livelihood for garden workers
- they contribute to the cultures they are a part of
- they enjoy educating those that are curious
Beverly Wainwright of Amba Tea Estate, near Bandarawela, Sri Lanka, is no exception. We met via a LinkedIn discussion about a year ago and I have been fascinated with her story, and the estate, ever since. You may wonder how a Scottish native ended up in Sri Lanka? Beverly was a VSO volunteer. VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas), per Wikipedia, strives to “bring people together to share skills, build capabilities, promote international understanding and action.” Her assignment sent her 9 hours outside of Colombo working with a rural chamber of commerce and local farmers developing small agri-businesses. Her path crossed with Simon, owner of Amba Tea Estate. She doesn’t completely out and out accuse him of slipping something in her tea, but a few months later she began the grueling and timely work of regenerating a tea estate that had not commercially produced hand processed tea in 40 years, and making it profitable. Thankfully she has a patient estate owner, Nigel Melican (one of my favorite tea experts), Karuna (estate manager) and countless plucking experts in her corner. They realize that the revitalization of this tea estate can mean renewed job opportunities to an area where the average family survives on $2 a day. Hundreds if not thousands of batches later, Beverly thinks they’ve got their fingers on the perfect recipe!
Amba Tea Estate currently boasts 20 acres of 70 year old teas bushes (total estate is about 110 acres). They pick their tea in the single leaf and bud fashion, producing OP1 style black tea all by hand. In an effort to expand the tea estate, they also grow organic fruits, vegetables, herbs, jams, chutneys, and have begun offering vacations at the eco-resort on-site. While the teas are not “certified” organic, they do farm using organic practices and require that other farms they work with practice in this same manner. They employ about 30 people and are the largest employer in both their village and the neighboring village. They offer English lessons to villagers and young children, collect/distribute clothing for employees and villagers that need them, participate in village clean-up programs, have assisted with water drainage problems, and are awaiting the go ahead from the local village to install a washing facility near the well. While these efforts are wonderful, it’s their focus on the mentally ill that has grabbed my attention. In 2011, Beverly and Amba Tea Estate partnered with Halfway Home Mulleriyawa, a facility housing over 600 mentally ill women. Amba has commissioned some of the women there to produce packaging for their teas. Possibly more important than giving these individual women a shot at normalcy, they have managed to use this opportunity to break stigmas and bring awareness to this issue in an area that held fast to stereotypes. THIS is the kind of tea estate that I want to work with!
Beverly and I have exchanged many emails and I loved that she wanted to make sure that we mentioned the efforts of the owners of Amba Tea Estate: I need to mention that without the constant support and financial input of the owners the Amba community would not have developed as it has, their investment in the building of our micro-tea factory and the equipment needed is a direct investment in people here. We have doubled our workforce since I arrived and have provided training and improved skills. We are working towards sustainability and now with our range of products and the guest house have a real chance to get there.
It’s exciting to check in with her periodically. She always provides an update on the work being done at the estate, weather updates (mostly rain related!) and just in general is gracious and passionate about the tea, the people and the region. Joy’s Teaspoon is so excited to be working with, and supporting the efforts of, Amba Tea Estate and will begin carrying their teas in October. We will offer their stunning OP1 black tea blended with dried tea flowers as well as their lemongrass which can be used as an herbal tea or in cooking! I encourage you to check out the many videos of Amba Tea Estate that are on YouTube and let Beverly know what an incredible job that her and her team of dedicated tea pro’s are doing in the Uvi Province of Sri Lanka!