By Sunimalee Dias
The country’s third largest tea factory, the Nawalakanda Tea Factory, situated in Kahawatte, Ratnapura has today become a major attraction among its clients since it hit all time record prices last year.
The factory dates back to the 1980s, but is today constantly changing and upgrading its equipment to maintain the highest standards.
The family-run business owned by Anura Peiris was brought to its current position of strong demand for its perfect blend of tea from, on average, 2.5 million kgs of orthodox tea.
Withering, rolling, roll break, fermentation and sorting is involved in the production of black tea amounting to 2.5 million kg on average, which is carried out with the use of advanced technology.
It was Peiris’ father B.H. Peiris who commenced the operation with the acquisition of lands in Madalagama, Delwala, Nahalwathura and Pebothuwa in the Ratnapura District, but after the Government takeover of lands he was left with only 50 acres. The family has now commenced growing in Wewelkanduruwatta as well. The business started out in the region famous for the country’s mid grown teas.
The small tea factory that commenced operations back in 1968 with the production of 1,500 kg at the time has today grown to become the third largest factory in the country.
Peiris had gained interest in getting actively involved in his father’s business and after getting married he became more involved in the business. Nawalakanda commenced with the production of 2,000 kg in 1984 with one tractor and a lorry.
He noted that in 1992 when tea prices fell, JKH assisted them to emerge from their financial problems.
With the business being given the necessary support from Peiris’ wife Lakshmi, in developing and bringing it up, today both his sons are involved in the running of the organisation.
The factory became fully automated about three years back with some of the latest technology including colour separators and its video cameras. It has now grown to such a level that the company is able to command higher prices.
With a reliable and efficient labour force there is an increase in production and the efforts of the tea plucking officers are seen in the 45,000 kgs of green leaf tea being plucked on average per day.
Peiris is also the owner of the Wewalkandura factory which presently manufactures 100,000 kgs of tea monthly, for which green leaf is plucked exclusively from the Sabaragamuwa Province and is situated along the Ratnapura-Kalawana main road in a village called Uda Pebotuwa.
The family also owns the Alhewana factory in Matugama, with Lakshmi Peiris heading its operations.
The owners provide assistance to the families of their employees and help them in their daily life as well.
With tea leaves being sent to the factory by 8:30 p.m., the process of withering starts and is kept overnight, after which rolling commences followed by other processes involved in the manufacture of tea. It’s a factory that runs with bought leaf that is supplied by tea small holders around the area.
In 2009/2010 Nawalakanda bagged first place in the top price category for the ‘Ceylon Specialty Tea of the Year’. The factory had also obtained the most number of top prices last year with All Time Record, of which four were for tea of Nawalakanda factory and two for the Wewalkandura factory.
Process of getting
into the cup
At the first stage of withering, the tea leaves they are initially plucked by employees of the factory are transported speedily to the factory in a bid to retain their goodness. Upon arrival at the factory they are weighed and placed in large troughs, which are about 80-100 feet long, after being sorted for any spoilt leaf during transportation.
At this stage the withering takes place where the moisture in the leaf is made to evaporate, for which large fans are used to blow cold and hot air into the trough. The withering process continues for a period of 10-12 hours under close supervision.
Next the withered leaves are fed into a large roller, at which point the larger leaves that will be the larger grade tea will be separated from the smaller or flowery grade leaves. A process known as the roll-braking then takes place. Then the leaves are fed into the roller to break them into smaller particles, a step which is repeated twice.
Fermentation takes place when the leaves are first plucked. The smaller leaf particles obtained from each roll-braking process and the larger leaf particles obtained from the last roll braking process are laid in beds for fermentation. This is carried out for a period of two to three hours.
Once completed the leaves are fed into large driers, with this process taking place for timeframe of about 20 minutes. This results in the formation and production of black tea that is finally found when removed from the driers.
In the next process, the separation occurs of leafy grade and flowery grade teas using modern high-tech machinery.
Following the process of sorting of tea, it is then packed into weather proof, high quality, large brown paper bags which also have aluminium foil lining on the inside to retain freshness during transportation.
The three factories are now setting their standards to serving the best cup of tea that is now marketed around the world as well.