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23rd August 1998

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The tea centre at Labookellie gets a cosy, roomy new look

More than a just a cuppa

By Deloraine Brohier

a picturesque viewFrom the cosy room of the new Labookellie Tea Centre, sipping a steaming cup of tea, I watched through the wide picture window, the mists drifting over the acres of deep-green bushes, outside. It was the formal opening of a re-decorated wing of the Tea Centre.

The Labookellie tea factory is set in a cleft of the escarpment which falls sharply from the plateau on which Nuwara Eliya stands. From the highland country, at different elevations and spread in a patchwork of cultivation, from about 6000 feet to the mid-country plains, lie tea plantations. Motor vehicles chugging up the steep and winding road which cuts through the Ramboda Pass, go through some of the island's oldest and best tea gardens.

A few years ago the management of Mackwoods Agency came up with the idea to provide a stop-over for motorists climbing this pass. They set up a narrow shed, to serve the traveller a quick cup of tea, brewed from the special flavours turned out in their factories. So popular was the concept that a further innovation emerged in time - the provision of home-made chocolate cake, with the beverage. Travellers who had the interest and leisure could also go round the factory and were shown the intricacies and technicalities of the production of tea, by women guides. Tourists and expatriates, as well as large groups of school children availed of these educational tours. Hundreds, per day, stopped by at Labookellie. Some, merely for the hot "cuppa", others to purchase a packet of the special flavour of high-grown tea. The packaging in due course took on innovative and attractive sales presentations.

As the Centre drew more crowds, the management recognised how congested and ill-equipped it had become for their foreign and local clients. The need to enlarge and improve on the Labookellie Tea Centre was urgent. So as a team - the Company Chairperson, Directors and staff at all levels, gave of their ideas and enthusiasm to create the new Tea Centre. And this was inaugurated on August 8, with modest pomp but with traditional ceremony.

The Chairperson of Mackwoods Plantations and her guests were escorted from the gate of the factory by a group of ten year old children of the estate staff, prettily dressed in bright pink pavadai. At the threshold of the new Tea Centre, the ribbon being cut, a pot of milk boiled over and conch-shell and drum beat heralded the auspicious moment.

The new Tea Centre is large enough to accommodate many people. What catches your eye, as you enter the room is a glass-panelled look-out at the further end, which takes in the hills of manicured tea. Here you might also see a rainbow trail of brightly clad women, winding their way, wicker baskets strapped on to their backs.

The furniture in the Centre is of dark, well-seasoned pine wood, that came from an old abandoned factory, I was told. The traditional motif of "two-leaves-and-a-bud" is carved into chair backs and the low table tops; antique porcelain plates adorn the walls and lamps of a lantern type used in old-time horse drawn coaches, give out mellow lighting. The ambiance is cosy and warm. It is all so like a typical English Inn. The management intends to develop on this impression and to serve muffins and hot scones with honey or pancakes, sugar-coated.

At the entrance to the Tea Centre is a shop and sales-point, Besides the packets of tea - "high-grown BOP" and other flavours, I picked out tea mugs and tea caddies. There were soft toys - dolls and animals carrying wicker tea baskets. Also tea serviettes, tray cloths and other table linen, crisply white and delicately embroidered in green, with the motif - "two-leaves-and-a-bud".

"Anytime is Tea time" - and with this slogan in mind the opening of Tea Centres like at Labookellie will enhance a prospering industry and augurs well for our country.

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