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When tea makes its presence felt on a plate

A five-course, tea-infused dinner menu in the heart of Sri Lanka’s tea country is the perfect way to discover the sheer brilliance and versatility of the world’s second most consumed drink

Earl Grey tea-infused chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream served at Ceylon Tea Trails. (Photo: Raul Dias)
Earl Grey tea-infused chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream served at Ceylon Tea Trails. (Photo: Raul Dias)

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It would be fair to say, that, more than just a casual interest in tea and its various accoutrements would work in your favour when checking into an eponymous property such as Ceylon Tea Trails by Resplendent Ceylon in Hatton, central Sri Lanka. A member of the prestigious Relais & Châteaux group of international luxury and bespoke properties, where the focus on food is an omnipresent one, this place amps up its tea quotient in myriad, delicious ways.

Budding knowledge
As the world’s second most popular drink—after water, of course—tea shows up at almost every turn you make at this property. One that’s nestled in this particular tea estate-filled ‘up country’, as Sri Lankans refer to hill stations.

To begin with, Ceylon Tea Trails itself is housed in five separate, repurposed British colonial-era tea plantation bungalows. In fact, the Dunkeld Bungalow, which is where I am spending a couple of days, is located in the heart of a working tea estate and factory of the same name. All this, surrounding the placid Castlereigh Reservoir, from where daily seaplanes bring visitors to and from the country’s capital Colombo.

Luckily for me, a recent tea drinking convert, my nascent tea knowledge is fired up here in myriad ways. The prized pick of the tea tree’s (not plant or shrub, mind you) two leaf and a needle-like bud, that’s only used to make top quality tea—with the needle part used for the super expensive white tea—shows up garnishing my fruit platter for breakfast. I sip on a refreshing cup of English breakfast tea by Dilmah, a popular Sri Lankan tea brand, in my room that’s named ‘Greig 1880’. Apparently, it’s named after an erstwhile tea planter who lived nearby in the late 1800s. Over the next few days, I work off indulgent afternoon cream teas and tea cocktail-lubricated sundowners with long walks to the main Dunkeld factory building and other bungalows on the specially marked tea trails that give this place its name.

To the T
But the piece de resistance for me, culminates in the property’s famed ‘Tea Infused Dinner’ by the Dunkeld Bungalow’s resident chef, K. Ravichandran. One that is offered free of charge to every guest, once during their stay. I choose to be indulged with this five-course dinner on my last night here. And it’s well worth the wait and hype.

Janaka, my butler, starts me off with a snifter of Dilmah Dream, a pre-dinner cocktail that’s the warming sum of its cognac and cinnamon spice tea parts. I am informed that the hard rolled leaf that goes into this tea is grown at 4,000 feet elevation in the Dimbula region of Sri Lanka.

For my first course, it’s a beautifully plated orange, beetroot and feta salad that tastes refreshing and zesty. This, thanks to the fruity berry tisane that’s infused in the dressing. Meandering down the same path is the rose with French vanilla tea-infused frothy mushroom cappuccino. Here, vanilla spiked pekoe tea from nearby Nuwara Eliya is coupled with the floral aroma of rose that perfectly offsets the woody, earthiness of mushroom in the soup.

An interlude of a pineapple sorbet enhanced by a tangy lemon and lime tea serves as a precursor to the main, fourth course. This one has a perfectly medium rare and delicious lamb loin that’s been crusted with refreshing Moroccan mint green tea and served with grilled vegetables and even more mint tea in the meaty jus that’s drizzled over the plate. I chase this with the Summer Tea cocktail that once again has the omnipresent Moroccan mint green tea. This time, teamed with dry gin for an astringent (in a good way) mouth feel.

Lamb with Moroccan mint tea. (Photo: Raul Dias)
Lamb with Moroccan mint tea. (Photo: Raul Dias)

For my fifth and final course of dessert; Chef Ravichandran places before me an Earl Grey tea-infused chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream. The subtle flavour of citrus-y bergamot—one of the chief aromas of an Earl Grey—is also present in the sauce that anoints this tasty confection.

I round off the evening with a cup of what’s technically not a tea, but a flower tisane, aka. camomile ‘tea’ for a good night’s sleep. The perfect end, I assume, to this tea saga.

But, no. The leitmotif of my own personal ‘tea trail’ of an evening continues. Back in my room, as I prepare to retire for the night, I find that crucial three leaf and a bud placed on my pillow. Perhaps, to make certain that my ensuing dreams, too, are tea-infused.

P.S. They are.

Tea menus in India

· Fried rice with tea leaf and tea leaf salad at Burma Burma:
From its flagship outpost in Mumbai, to its branches in Bengaluru, Kolkata and Delhi NCR, this popular all-vegetarian Burmese cuisine-serving restaurant pays obeisance to the ubiquitous tea leaf. A vital ingredient that can be found in all sorts of dishes across Myanmar. The fried rice on the menu is an amalgamation of rice with punchy, fermented tea leaves, peanuts for texture and a hint of fried garlic. The tea leaf salad, or laphet thoke as it is called, is made up 80% of pickled tea leaves, with lettuce, peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, fried garlic and sliced tomato rounding it off.

· Lutyen’s Tea and Black Label Cocktail at Sidecar:
Currently ranked 26 in the World’s 50 Best Bars 2022, and 14 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2022, this craft cocktail bar in Delhi’s Greater Kailash neighbourhood features a second flush Darjeeling tea, Black Label whiskey and homemade licorice cordial cocktail on its menu under their ‘Whatever You Say’ bespoke cocktail section.

· Masala tea ice cream at Icecreamskee:
Nestled snug among the many interesting flavours like jalebi and avocado is the masala tea ice cream at this Mumbai ice creamerie. This one is a heavily perfumed confection with Gujarati tea masala, lemon grass, ginger and cardamom as its flavour base.

· Capsule Tea Cocktail Collection at KOKO:
This Mumbai pan Asian restobar has what is called a capsule collection of tea-based cocktails comprising four drinks. Bombyx Mori has Bombay Sapphire-infused mulberry tea and saffron syrup, as its main components, while the South China Iced Tea has Dewar’s 12 Y.O, lapsang tea and kumquat marmalade. The KOKO Master Whiskey Sour is a combination of Japanese Nejire, Dewar’s White Label and matcha tea syrup, while Mustagh Pass melds Kashmiri kahwa tea with Jameson and Vanille Francaise for a floral end note.

· Three Tea Cocktails at Foo:
Another place to offer more than a couple of tea cocktails is this Mumbai—and more recently, Bengaluru—pan Asian restobar. While Foo Master has whiskey, Japanese matcha tea, brandy and lemon zest, the floral tasting Foo Queen is a vodka and pandan-infused tequila based one with lychee, jasmine tea and rose water. For a spicy kick, there’s the Tom Yum Iced Tea, which is the sum of its black tea, lime, Thai chilli syrup, kaffir lime and lemongrass parts.

Raul Dias is a Mumbai-based food and travel writer.

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