Tea-estate

Kolukkumalai - Munnar, India 

The small village of Kolukkumalai is famous for being home to one of the highest tea plantations in the world. The tea grown here has a special flavour and particular freshness, that is due to the high altitude it is grown in (8,000 feet above sea level). The factory at the centre of the plantation is a small building, that has remained unchanged since it was built by the british in the 1930′s. The plantation continues to use traditional a method of manufacturing tea, that ivolves withering, rolling, sieving, fermenting, drying, fiber extraction, and grading the tea leaves. 

In addition to the tea plantations, Kolukkumalai is a great place to hike and enjoy the amazing views on offer, particularly at sunrise and sunset. 

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In 1890, Sir Thomas Lipton arrived on the island of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, to purchase a plot of land that would become the first tea estate in his global tea empire. These days, in the Ambadandegama Valley located just a few miles from Lipton’s original estate, another experiment in tea production is unfolding.

Tucked into the side of a precipitous mountain, Amba Estate is a tea operation that shares 10 percent of its revenues with its workers. That’s a novel approach here in Sri Lanka, a country that’s one of the world’s largest exporters of tea — an industry that employs more than 1 million of its 22 million residents.

“What makes us different is our 10 percent revenue share — not profit share. We decided to do revenue share because even when we’re not making a profit, we felt it was only right that workers and management receives recognition,” says Simon Bell.

Bell purchased the 26-acre Amba Estate in 2006 with three partners – all of whom had previously worked in international development. Their goal, he says, was to create a for-profit social enterprise that could create long-term employment in the region. “It’s thanks to the hard work and innovation [of the workers] that we’ve grown revenue 20 fold over the last few years.”

The estate employs 30 full-time workers from the local village. One elderly Tamil couple resides on the property itself. They had lived in an old line house, a structure built to house tea workers during the days of British rule, since long before Bell and his partners purchased the land. “We didn’t know if they had anywhere else to go,” says Bell. “They asked to stay and we were happy to let them.”

PHOTOS: In Sri Lanka’s Tea Paradise, A Social Enterprise Is Brewing

Photos: Victoria Milko for NPR

Lapsang Souchong


Also known as smoked tea, Lapsang Souchong is an ancient Chinese black tea, perhaps the oldest known to date. Legends say during the Qing dynasty tea producers in the Wuyi mountains accelerated the drying process of less desirable leaves to satisfy the needs of the military. The unique smoky flavour comes from a secretive process passed down through the generations, where today it is still prepared in the ancient way and only produced in a select few of the Wuyi tea estates.

The tea is picked from the fourth or fifth leaf from the bud and left to dry on a cypress or pine wood fire. The tea is then placed within wooden barrels to intensify the flavour. The final step is placing the tea into bamboo trays called honglongs, which are then placed over smoky pine fires to dry the tea completely.   

This is a very different flavour of tea that you will love or loathe. There is a strong smokiness throughout each sip with undertones of longan berry, whiskey, and pine smoke. The aroma is near spot on to that of a campfire, and brings me to think of the starry nights, roasted marshmallows and ghost stories of my childhood. Nostalgia aside the tea is really unlike any other, and would probably be a favourite for any bacon lover.      


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I’ve been fairly content with 2015 as far as film viewing goes. I got to watch 4 movies that I thoroughly enjoyed on the big screen- starting with OK Kanmani, Premam, Baahubali and then finally Ennu Ninte Moideen. Each film has a special place in my heart for their own reasons, some hogging a little more space than others. 2016 for me starts with a film that I hope will set the mood for the rest of the year. 2016 starts with Charlie; advocating feel-goodness and the beauty of life and happiness for all. And honestly, after a disproportionately upsetting and tiring week I needed a little happiness.

  • As a film, Charlie is everything it promises to be; a simple love story that makes you smile and urges you to make others do the same.
  • Released in 2015, the year that churned out 2 of the biggest romantic blockbusters the industry has ever seen, comparison is somewhat inevitable. But you shouldn’t go in expecting a ‘mass-y’ editing extravaganza or an epic masterpiece love story.
  • Expect beautiful visuals, stunning performances, lovely music. Expect the sudden urge to drop everything you’re doing, pick up a backpack, and travel the world in hope of meeting your own Charlie/s or becoming Charlie yourself.
  • Charlie is the kind of movie that ends leaving you like ‘wait…what? It’s finished??! No…but, but, but…why.’ I didn’t want it to be over. I wanted to see so much more. I wanted to see all the adventures Charlie and Tessa have together. I wanted to see Tessa making him do laps behind her jeep as punishment for the cat and mouse game he played. I wanted to see Charlie meeting Tessa’s NRI suitor with the dialogue ‘Ayyai! Evanano parishkari?!’
  • Needless to say, I left the theatre with a smile on my face. And despite it’s flaws, Charlie is a film with a lot of heart (and a lot of hugs).
  • Enthiyalum, sambhavam colour ayye! 

I’m not sure if I’m even allowed to have an opinion on Dulquer related things anymore because you might need more than fog lights to see through the bias, but you know what, screw it. Here’s what I thought (as spoiler free as I could make it):

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Black tea (1) - ASSAM (category)

Assam estate in west bengal, India. This category of tea has varying estates depending on the season of the year. Unlike its fellow Indian tea darjeeling, Assam is grown at lower altitudes (sea level) giving it a dark robust, and malty taste.

The medium tannin component makes this an exceptional tea to have with a dash of milk and sugar, and has widely been adopted as a breakfast tea. Assam is actually the base for popular teas like English Breakfast, and Irish Breakfast!

taste: traditional, malty, rich
brew: 95 degrees C, 2-4 minute infusion (full 4 minutes when adding milk)

The Note - F!Hawke/Isabela

Hawke knows that Isabela won’t stay with her forever and she asks her to leave a note before she goes. Takes place before the Arishok fight. 2027 words.

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It was hot in Kirkwall. 

The sun beat down on the cobblestones of Hightown, making the ladies fan themselves in their constricting dresses and gentlemen dab at their forehead with their handkerchiefs. Most of the vendors had given up for the day and were closing down their stands to retreat indoors. 

“It’s too hot to be out!” one of the noblewomen nearby was saying as she fanned herself furiously. “I’m going to faint if that servant doesn’t hurry up with the water!”

Hawke narrowed her eyes as she stood in front of one of the vendors. She recognized her as Fifi de Launcet, the daughter of one her mother’s friend. Leandra Hawke had tried to get them to befriend each other at one point, holding tea at the estate and forcing Hawke into a frilly dress. It had ended badly, as Hawke could have predicted, when Hawke had dropped one of her scones and said, “Maker’s saggy balls!” rather loudly. The “lady” had almost fainted dead away at that as well. 

“What are we going to do about this heat?” Fifi said to one of her friends who had an equally stupid simper on her face. “I don’t want to go inside. It’s such a bore, and I really will faint if that dratted servant doesn’t hurry up. Honestly, you’d think we don’t pay them.”

“Why don’t you get your own water?” Hawke snapped before she could stop herself. “And maybe if you didn’t wear those ridiculous corsets you wouldn’t be having this problem.” Truthfully, Hawke’s own clothing - fur-lined Ferelden armor - was hot as well and making sweat drip down her back, but she didn’t see any need to mention that. What she wouldn’t give to be wearing one of Isabela’s tunics right now.

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A steady rain falls on velvet green terraces, releasing a powerful scent of newly harvested tea. A ripple of voices tumbles down the hillside as a man barks orders.

The tea pickers, all women, many in bare feet, expertly navigate the leech-infested slopes. Balancing hampers on their backs loaded with freshly plucked tea leaves, they descend for their morning tea break.

It could be a scene out of the 19th century, when the estates of the southern Indian state of Kerala were first cultivated on the mist-shrouded highlands of Munnar. Today, the manicured tea terraces sprawl across the landscape.

The verdant bushes grow year round, spilling down the hills to meet the curving roads. The beauty of these gardens belies the hardships of workers, who produce nearly 50 million pounds of tea a year here at the Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Company.

For all the timelessness of the place, there’s a very modern twist — the tea pickers have defied the male hierarchy of trade unions who represent tea workers and stood up for their rights.

Indeed, life on tea estates reflects the economic and social challenges facing women across India.

Female Tea Workers In One Indian State Fight For Their Rights

Photos: Julie McCarthy/NPR

Where is Isobel Crawley now?

Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton) is the distant cousin of the main Crawley household and the mother to the late Matthew Crawley. She trained as a nurse during the Boer War. Isobel, along with her son, arrive at Downton Abbey after receiving a letter informing Matthew he was Robert Crawley’s heir. Isobel’s nursing skills arise when she shows interest in the Downton Cottage Hospital. When encountering a local farmer dying from dropsy, she shows Dr Clarkson (the village Doctor) a new technique to cure the disease, saving the man’s life. Isobel is later appointed Chairman at Downton Cottage Hospital, which is co-shared with Violet Crawley.

In series two, Isobel persuades Robert and Cora to turn Downton Abbey into a convalescent home for injured soldiers so those critically injured could have beds at the hospital. Isobel, alongside Cora, took up a position of charge during the war, resulting in frequent clashes between herself and Lady Cora. As a result, Isobel left Downton Abbey’s convalescent home to work in France with the Red Cross, though later returned when she discovered Matthew was injured in the war. Isobel was the one to suggest that Violet and Cora keep Downton as a convalescent home after the war to help soldiers rebuild their lives.

Isobel and the rest of the Crawley family show their support for Bates who is arrested on charges of murder. She, along with many others in the household did not believe Bates was a murderer. She attended Bates’ trial and supported his new wife Anna Bates and other Downton staff who were called to stand during the trial.

While originally opposed to Matthew’s relationship with Lady Mary Crawley, Isobel helps persuade her son to propose to Mary again after the death of his first fiancé, Lavinia Swire.

During series three, Isobel is one of the few to stand up for Sybil and Tom Branson, feeling they should return for Mary and Matthew’s wedding. When Matthew announced he wanted Tom to be his best man, Isobel is delighted with his decision.

During this series, Isobel strove to help women working in prostitution after finding out her former maid Ethel had turned to prostitution after falling on hard times. She supported Ethel in the decision to give up her child and rehired Ethel as her maid, despite the protest of others, including Mrs Bird who resigned in protest. She goes to the Thirsk fare with Dr Clarkson and gently lets him down when she comes to the conclusion he wants to propose, thus maintaining their friendship. The last time she sees her son is at the birth of his son George.

Series four, and like her daughter-in-law, Isobel is deeply mourning the loss of Matthew and discusses with Mary and Tom about the loss of their spouses. Like Mary, Isobel gradually leaves mourning and spends more time with her grandson, saying he can call her Grandmama, so Cora can be Granny. She decides that Sybbie can call her Aunt Isobel.

An argument breaks out between the Dowager and Isobel when Violet suspects the new Gardner to be stealing. Isobel, believing him to be innocent, works on proving his innocence and is proven right. Despite their quarrelsome nature, when Robert is away in America, Isobel nurses the Dowager when she falls ill with bronchitis. Isobel finds an admirer in Lord Merton (Mary’s Godfather). After spending some time with Violet and Isobel.

In series five, Isobel is still being pursued by Lord Merton and the local Doctor, Richard Clarkson, and though Violet tries to help her, Isobel seems less than interested. She, along with the Dowager, goes to Lord Merton’s estate for tea where he later proposes to her. Giving Lady Isobel a couple of days to think over his request, she accepts, though she is hurt when both his sons treat her with disrespect. Weighing up both the pros and cons of the marriage to Lord Merton, Isobel comes to the conclusion that the marriage would fail and turns down Merton’s proposal, to which Violet remarks that would make Dr Clarkson delighted.

In series six of Downton Abbey things are drastically changing for the upper classes. After the Great War, richer families are finding it hard to keep onto their large estates. For Isobel all is well until there is a problem with the local hospital; it is suggested that the hospital join with a larger hospital to better its treatment. This small change is alarming for characters like Violet. Isobel, however, is all for the changes as, ‘she thinks that people deserve to have the best treatment’. There is a disagreement of positions between Violet and Isobel, ‘it’s a test of strength between Violet and I most of the time… the hierarchy is changing.’

How would Penelope Wilton like the series to end for Isobel? ‘I’ve had a lot of torment and trial for my character’ Penelope says, ‘so I think a vibrant middle age would be something she’s looking forward to.’

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I must admit I have dunked a tea bag into hot water and called it tea. I have even made Darjeeling tea, sometimes called the champagne of teas, from a tea bag.

For tea gurus like Anindyo Choudhury, that is sacrilege. “I wouldn’t even touch it,” he says.

Most tea bag teas are chopped and cut by machine instead of being rolled and twisted, hand-plucked and hand-processed. The best Darjeeling tea is loose leaf, steeped for a couple of minutes in hot water — it’s light and bright.

When Choudhury describes it, he sounds as if he’s talking about wine. He gets excited about what he calls the “muscatel,” a “nice fruity flavor” that he says is “very hard to come by.” He talks about tea “maturing” over a week or two, its flavors deepening.

Choudhury drinks a lot of tea. For almost two decades, it has been a part of his job at J Thomas & Co. Pvt. Ltd., the oldest and largest tea auctioneer and broker in the world. The first public sale of tea took place in its Calcutta offices in 1861.

Darjeeling 2.0: India’s Tea Auction Goes Digital

Photos: Jeff Koehler

From the contributors section of Harper’s Bazaar:

The most beautiful person you know ‘My 21-year old daughter Piper.  She is the most radiant, funny and glorious human I know.’

The most beautiful place on Earth ‘The father of my two boys has a tea estate in Sri Lanka that sits on top of the greenest mountains you have ever seen.  It is beyond breathtaking.’

You feel most beautiful when… ‘well rested, well groomed and grounded.’

Your favourite physical attribute ‘My feet’