Nuwara Eliya Tea: Tasting, Tea Picking and High Tea at the Grand Hotel

Created by Colleen Sims | Updated : 29 December 2023 |

Nuwara Eliya is famous for its tea.  We’d had a fine time exploring the tea plantations of Munnar but we never had an opportunity to sample the tea. 

We knew that once we reached Sri Lanka, world renowned home of Ceylon Tea, that tea tasting would be high on our agenda. 

Nuwara Eliya produces some of the world’s finest teas and as a stop-over on the Kandy to Ella train, tea tasting here is almost mandatory.

Nuwara Eliya Tea and a chocolate and strawberry tea cake. We were Tasting tea during our High Tea at the Grand Hotel in Nurawa Eliya

Visiting Nuwara Eliya? You Must Taste Tea!

I did some research and there were several options and several plantations to visit. I choose three to give us a variety. We spent a perfect day tasting tea.  Even the weather didn’t dampen our spirits and the finale was a glorious High Tea at the glorious Grand Hotel. 

If you want to learn about tea tasting in Nuwara Eliya then read on; and allow time in your itinerary for the High Tea!

after a factory visit at Damro tea plantation you can taste the and enjoy a large slice of tea cake

Where Is Nuwara Eliya?

Nestled in the picturesque hills of the central highlands, Nuwara Eliya is a charming little town and Sri Lanka’s highest at 1,868 meters above sea level.

Affectionately called “Little England” due to its colonial architecture and cool climate, Nuwara Eliya is surrounded by lush tea plantations and offers breathtaking views of the hills and valleys and on a clear day, of Pidurutalagala, Sri Lanka’s highest mountain.

sacks of nuwara eliya tea at damro tea factory visit

Why Is Nuwara Eliya Famous?

While evidence suggests that there were ancient settlements in the area long before tea arrived, Nuwara Eliya truly blossomed in the 19th century.  The British discovered the region’s suitability for tea and founded the town in 1828, establishing tea plantations and transforming the landscape.

Nuwara Eliya’s climate also lent itself to being a sanctuary from the heat of Colombo and colonialists immersed themselves in pastimes such as hunting, horse racing, polo, golf and cricket.

Many of the town’s buildings retain features from this colonial age such as the Queen’s Cottage, the Grand Hotel and the Town Post Office and many private homes still maintain their English-style lawns and gardens.

Nuwara Eliya, with the perfect combination of cool temperatures, high altitude, and rich soil became the prime location for cultivating fine tea.  “High-grown” teas from Nuwara Eliya are renowned for their delicate flavours, subtle hints of fruit and refreshing brightness and the region produces some of the world’s greatest tea.

Today its rolling hills and emerald green tea plantations create a picture-perfect landscape. Waterfalls tumble from verdant hills and Colonial-era architecture, reminiscent of England, adds to the towns unique charm, which attracts visitors from around the world. 

★★★★★

Done for you Tea Plantation Tour

  • Visit Damro and Oak Ray plantations
  • Enjoy factory tour and tastings
  • Swim at Ramboda Falls
  • With hotel pick-up
old fashioned post box inside the old Post Office in Nuwara Eliya; a throwback to the town's colonial days

How To Get To Nuwara Eliya?

Nuwara Eliya is well-connected by train, bus and car from major cities such as Colombo, Kandy and Ella.  From Colombo expect a good 5-6 hours drive and similar on the train.  There is also a bus from Colombo, but this journey takes around 7-8 hours.

Growing in popularity is the scenic rail journey from Kandy to Ella. The journey offers breathtaking views of tea plantations, waterfalls, and mist-covered mountains and Nuwara Eliya is the half-way point and the perfect place to break your journey.  This was certainly how we chose to arrive from Kandy.

Another alternative is to travel by private taxi from Kandy and stop off at the Bluefield Tea Plantation near Ramboda en route.  The most iconic stretch of the train journey is onwards from Nuwara Eliya to Ella, so the drive could be a good option for some.

Top Tip : We use Rome2Rio as a starting point when planning our journeys. It’s not always correct so don’t take everything it says as true but it will give you a good idea of journey times and potential transport options. 

Gerry at Kandy train station waiting for the famous Kandy to Ella train to Nuwara Eliya

What Are The Most Famous Tea Plantations In Nuwara Eliya?

There are many world famous plantations nearby including  :

Pedro Tea Estate

Pedro Tea Estate is easily accessed from Nuwara Eliya.  It was established in 1885 and still has some of the old machinery in place.  You should allow 20 minutes for touring the factory, although because of the type of tea they produce, the factory only operates at night.  However you can still tour during the day.

Enjoy a cup of their famous black tea in their Lovers Leap Ethical Tea Boutique and whilst they offer tasting sessions of other teas, this wasn’t available when we visited.  You can also explore the plantation and try your hand at tea picking; which we did despite the rain.

picking tea at the Pedro Tea Estate near Nuwara Eliya

Damro Labookelie Tea Estate

Established in 1841 by Captain William Mackwood, Damro Estate is recognised as the second oldest plantation in Sri Lanka. Damro still nurture tea bushes that are more than 150 years old. 

A short distance from town, with a stunning drive, it’s nestled in a scenic setting at over 2000m above sea level.

We were given a tour in English and could view the factory and watch the tea being processed.  After you can enjoy different tastings and can purchase tea to take home.  They also offer a selection of cakes for a small charge; Gerry loved his tea cake.  

Their black tea was one of our favourites as an every day cuppa and I really loved the Flowering Fanning tea; we bought a box of both.

tea tasting damro

Bluefield Tea Factory

Bluefield Tea Factory is the furthest location from Nuwara Eliya, about 50 minutes drive.  It’s a beautiful journey and also an ideal stopping point if you are coming from Kandy by car.

Established in 1921, Bluefield Tea Gardens is a smaller estate with a reputation for high quality tea; producing some 30,000 kilograms a month.

They offer a factory tour; which is huge and pretty much unchanged since it first opened. There is a Tea Centre offering tasting and also a small shop.  Unlike other plantations there is a restaurant here offering a late breakfast or lunch.  They had no gluten free options but their tea is very good.

Whichever plantation you choose, you’ll find it has its own unique charm and the teas have a unique flavour profile, just as different wines do. 

★★★★★

Done for you Tea Plantation Tour

  • Visit Damro and Oak Ray plantations
  • Enjoy factory tour and tastings
  • Swim at Ramboda Falls
  • With hotel pick-up

Can You Visit A Tea Plantation In Nuwara Eliya?

Absolutely! Many of the plantations welcome visitors and offer the opportunity to explore the lush tea estates. The larger plantations welcome guests for guided tours, offering insights into the tea production, from plucking to processing. 

You can spend time in the plantation learning how to pick tea, and of course, after a tour, you can indulge in a little tea tasting.

We visited the tea factory museum in Munnar and whilst it was interesting, visiting Nuwara Eliya’s plantations and being able to witness the journey of tea from picking the leaves to tasting the hot fragrant cups was a real treat for us.

Not only can you visit a tea plantation, it is really worthwhile making a stopover specifically for this reason (and don’t forget to add in High Tea at the Grand Hotel).

view of the tea plantation from the tea lounge at Damro, a Nuwara Eliya Tea plantations

How Long Do You Need For A Tea Plantation Visit?

How long you need at each plantation is down to the options that you choose whilst there. We put aside a day as we knew it was going to be all about tea. 

If you only wish to taste tea then an hour is more than enough time.  If you wish to taste a few different teas, take a factory tour and spend time in the plantation then you should allow 1-2 hours. We do recommend taking at least one factory tour as you gain so much insight into the process of tea making.

At Damro there seemed to be no limit to how long we could stay in the Tea Lounge.  We sampled 3 teas and I’m sure we could have enjoyed more if we had asked (for a small fee).  At Bluefield you can even stay for lunch, so allow for this in your schedule.

If you are a guest at the Heritance Tea Factory Hotel they offer a Tea Tasting experience which lasts a full two hours.

If you book an organised tour they will tell you how much time you need to allow for your visit but the organised trips are usually half a day.

Colleen Gerry visiting the Tea Plantations at Nuwara Eliya in the rain

Do You Need To Book A Plantation Visit In Advance?

Nuwara Eliya is world famous for its tea and during the high season it gets busy; so I would recommend booking a tour in advance.  It’s not essential and it is possible to simply turn up but if you are sure that you wish to visit a plantation then for peace of mind I would reserve your spot.

We didn’t and as a result we found at Pedro, that tea tasting wasn’t available every day and some plantations offer organised tours at scheduled times.  So, whilst it’s not necessary to book in advance, it is advisable to check with the tea estate as to what is available when you visit.

Gerry visiting the tea factory in Nuwara Eliya

★★★★★

Done for you Tea Plantation Tour

  • Visit Damro and Oak Ray plantations
  • Enjoy factory tour and tastings
  • Swim at Ramboda Falls
  • With hotel pick-up

What Should I Expect From A Tea Plantation Visit?

Be prepared for misty mornings, stunning landscapes, and the invigorating fragrance of tea. You’ll learn about the intricate process of tea-making, certainly learn to appreciate the dedication and hard work of the pickers and discover the perfect cuppa for your palate.

Each plantation offers something different.  The tea factories are busy and of course their programmes are aimed at tourists so do expect this.  However, there was no hard selling, (actually no selling). The tours are very informative and you aren’t expected to buy anything; although there is an opportunity to purchase tea if you wish in the shop.

At Pedro we did have to pay for the tour of the plantation.  At Damro we were surprised that the factory tour and the tasting of three of their teas was free; Gerry did pay extra for a slice of tea cake. 

Flowering Fanning Tea from Damro Tea Estate; my favourite of the teas we tasted

Is It Worth Doing More Than One Tea Plantation Visit?

We did more than one, in part because we wanted to compare and review for you! 

But we also wanted to taste different teas.   We live in France, near Bordeaux and we certainly enjoy visiting and tasting different wine chateaux in the area. The different tea plantations offer similar variations in flavours and it was good to compare.

Each plantation offers its own unique perspective, so if you’re passionate about tea, like Gerry, then multiple visits can be a great idea. However, if you’re just visiting for a day and you’re simply curious about tea then one visit might be enough for you.

The manner in which tea is picked and processed is pretty much the same in Sri Lanka as it was in India and the factory processes are similar, but each estate has its own history so each visit will be different.  And the teas do vary and the taste is remarkably different, so venturing to more than one estate will allow you to sample a range of flavours to discover your favourite.

And regardless of how many plantations you choose to visit,  I 100% recommend that you allow time for High Tea at the Grand Hotel. 

★★★★★

Done for you Tea Plantation Tour

  • Visit Damro and Oak Ray plantations
  • Enjoy factory tour and tastings
  • Swim at Ramboda Falls
  • With hotel pick-up
sign proclaiming Celebration high Tea - Just Celebrate Life.  We felt our high tea at the Grand Hotel did just that!

What Is The History Of High Tea At The Grand Hotel?

The tradition of high tea at The Grand Hotel is rooted in the colonial past.  Sir Edward Barnes, the 5th Governor of Ceylon, started the tradition when he built his mansion here in 1828.  Originally a much smaller holiday home, afternoon tea was part of the routine for Barnes Hall (as it was then called).

Transformed into a luxury hotel in 1891, the Grand Hotel is now part of Nuwara Eliya’s history and one of the town’s oldest and most prestigious hotels. It is famed for its elegance and impeccable service and has hosted countless dignitaries and celebrities throughout the years. 

As a nod to its past and British traditions The Grand Hotel opens its terrace daily for visitors to savour this most elegant of meals.  High tea is a cherished ritual here offering a taste of a bygone age and is a truly delightful experience. 

Every afternoon between 3pm and 6pm visitors flock to be served delicious delights from traditional English Scones with clotted cream, to Smoked Salmon and cucumber sandwiches.  All washed down with a glass or two of crisp sparkling wine and lots and lots and lots of the famous Ceylon tea.

a bronze engraved sign at the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya explaining the area popularity in the 1800s

How Much Is High Tea At The Grand Hotel?

The cost of high tea at the Grand Hotel can vary based on the package you choose.   Each package comes with a selection of premium teas, accompanied by an array of delectable treats.

We opted for the Sparkling High Tea and enjoyed more treats that we could eat; and it really hurt to leave such tempting delights on the stand untouched.  We tasted 4 premium teas and each ‘pot’ allowed for 2 cups per person and we had a glass of a very nice sparkling wine (I may have even have had 2).

It cost LKR 8000 per person which for us was around 20€ each.  As it was Christmas, we were able to enjoy their special festive package.  We were served so much food and tea and wine that we felt this represented excellent value.

There are less expensive options available, starting from LKR 4,800 per person.  If in doubt you can contact the hotel directly to confirm the cost and reserve your table.

two glasses of chilled white wine, served during our high tea at the grand hotel in Nuwara Eliya

Is High Tea Possible With Allergies or Special Diets Like Gluten Free?

Yes! The Grand Hotel says it is committed to ensuring that every guest can enjoy a delightful culinary experience. 

I messaged in advance.  Do make sure you do this so that they can fully prepare. I was overwhelmed by the options available for me.  Glorious little sandwiches all made gluten free by the chef, and even little GF tea cakes, desserts and macaroons.  Honestly one of the best gluten free experiences I’ve had. 

Contact The Grand Hotel at :

Be sure to confirm with your waiter if you have allergies or a special diet but it was heaven to have my very own glorious gluten free High Tea; hence my extra glass of wine.

Grand hotel's photo of their high tea; I would say that ours looked even nicer than this but the principle is the same.  Wonderful high tea and glorious cups of tea
I know this isn’t my photograph but after a day of tea tasting and taking photos my camara battery died. You’ll need to take our word for it that this really does represent this glorious wonderful experience; except ours had wine too!

What Is Included In The High Tea?

Firstly, expect a beautiful tea room in a glorious setting. We sat inside beside one of the open arches to the terrace; we had so much rain when visiting Nuwara that outside wasn’t an option. 

Do expect some form of live entertainment.  For us we had a saxophonist but others have reported pianists and singers. 

Do expect the entire process to be charming and unhurried.

We were able to taste 4 premium teas, each one very different.  The waiter explained each tea, explained how long they should be allowed to brew and if they are better with or without milk or sugar.  The waiters are actually fabulous and very knowledgeable about tea.

We both had our own tower of delight because one was gluten free.  Usually two people share one but you get the same quantity of food.  We had finger sandwiches, freshly baked scones, Gerry had pastries, a tiny quiche and an equally tiny pork pie, along with cakes and tarts; there was even a little slice of Christmas cake.  Mine included a selection of sandwiches, savoury treats and cakes and desserts all prepared for me gluten free.

Expect a great deal of food and tea.  This high tea is maybe an indulgence; we certainly needed no further food that day.   But I cannot stress how much we enjoyed this experience and for us, we felt it represented excellent value for money.

★★★★★

We LOVED the grand hotel

  • The perfect place to soak up the colonial charm of Nuwara Eliya
  • Check in early, take a swim, enjoy High Tea and have a leisurely morning the next day
the last of my high tea.  I had to leave some as I was just too full.  All of my high tea was gluten free
The last of my High Tea after charging my phone

How Long Should You Allow For High Tea At The Grand Hotel?

We loved this experience.  We loved this more than we expected.  My advice is make the very most of your visit.  Arrive at 3pm and stay for as long as you can.  It’s glorious.  High Tea officially ends at 6pm but guests were still in the tea room after this.

High tea at the Grand Hotel is designed to be enjoyed at a leisurely experience.  The tea is served at intervals.  It is never rushed; they want you to savour the moment.

The minimum you should allow is 1.5 hours but seriously allow 3 and just enjoy the unhurried pace so characteristic of this very British experience.

the stunning tea lounge i the grand hotel.  We sat at the table on the left of the photo looking out at the terrace

Can You Spend The Night At The Grand Hotel?

Yes.  Have I mention that we loved our High Tea Experience?  We loved it so much that we decided to extend our stay and indulged in a little luxury with an overnight stay.

The Grand Hotel reminded us so much of our beloved Spanish Parador hotels it was just too good an opportunity to miss.

There is a slightly understated charm that exists here.  The rooms may not be the biggest and the bathrooms maybe not as modern as some hotels but the Grand offers an elegance of yesteryear that you simply can’t define.

My advice to anyone visiting Nuwara Eliya is spend a night in the Grand Hotel.  Arrive early to check in and perhaps enjoy relaxing in their fabulous pool.  Go for High Tea at 3pm and after simply relax into one of their glorious sofas and let the world drift by. 

You’ll also find a games room, a gym and a spa and a selection of world class restaurants and breakfast was plentiful and delicious (and also offered gluten free options).  We skipped dinner but spent the evening in the lounge enjoying the live music and a house cocktail.

Staff at the Grand almost fall over themselves to help and aren’t impersonal as in some high-end hotels.  The folks we met were very happy to engage in conversation which just added to the charm. 

Just book a night at the Grand Hotel. It is the perfect way to enjoy your Nuwara Eliya experience. 

★★★★★

We LOVED the grand hotel

  • The perfect place to soak up the colonial charm of Nuwara Eliya
  • Check in early, take a swim, enjoy High Tea and have a leisurely morning the next day

Nuwara Eliya Tea: Is It Worth A Visit?

If you’re planning to visit Sri Lanka then it’s likely you’ll visit Kandy and Ella. If this is you then it would be a terrible shame to miss a day in this delightful town.

We recommend visiting one or two plantations in the morning.  Don’t eat a big lunch because you’ll need room for your High Tea at the Grand.  Book a room and stay overnight and after breakfast in the morning continue your journey onwards.

Nuwara Eliya was a late addition to our Sri Lanka itinerary but ended up being one of our most treasured memories.  It’s certainly worth a visit.  And the tea is excellent too!

Gerry beside the amazing Christmas decorations that covered the Grand Hotel in Nuwara Eliya

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

Whenever you travel, you should have a great travel and medical insurance policy.  None of us expect anything bad to happen, but in the event of an incident, you want to be sure that your insurance will be there for you.

I’ve ended up in hospital in Peru, Indonesia, Portugal, Japan and Ireland! Every time my insurance took care of everything. I would never leave home without full and comprehensive insurance.

TrueTraveller : We have this policy and we are very happy with the cover, especially considering our ages and pre-existing conditions.

Globelink : We have used and recommended Globelink for years and we’ve not heard of any issues. They are a great choice for European and UK Residents.

Safety Wing : Many of my travelling buddies from the USA have recommended this company to me, although we’ve not used them personally.

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Colleen in Salamanca on the Via de la Plata

Hey I’m Colleen. I’m married to Gerry, we’ve three fabulous kids and been living in France for almost two decades. I fell in love with Spain in the 1980s and I’ve walked 1000s of miles along the Camino de Santiago. Now we’re exploring and walking the world and I can’t wait to share what we’ve learned!

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