It has, so far, been a wet year. The previous two were unusually dry but in 2018 the skies have emptied themselves.
Our guests have seemed to rather like it. I get nervous when it rains a lot but with the fire roaring and the gin flowing, weather anxiety seems to ebb quickly.
What’s more, people appreciate we’re on a tea estate, and wouldn’t be if it were dry all year. Reminding guests, and ourselves, of that fact has encouraged our thinking around what it means to be a ‘tea-estate hotel’.
The tea fields and the guesthouse do run as separate businesses but we’re closely tied. Mr Dassanayake, our estate manager of 25 years, is a constant, joyful presence, and the estate tea pickers are routinely seen in the fields near the house or at the tea-weighing shed.
Seeing the ladies head out, or joining Mr Das on a ‘tea tour’, is of course a great attraction for many but it’s begun to occur that we haven’t done a fantastic job of extending to the pickers the positives of having, now, a good number of paying guests at the house.
We charge a little for the tea tours and tastings. A decent part of that goes to Mr Das, and a fair amount (what we’re told they’re very happy with) goes to the ladies. We currently just pass over the cash; whether or not we’d do better to pool the money and allocate to a specific project isn’t clear. Doing that might tell a better story but could be a little patronising.
We’re in the process, too, of ramping up the sale of our own (and other local) tea. We’ve no grand plans to swamp Fortnum & Mason (yet) but selling nicely packed Ashburnham Estate tea should provide an income stream not insignificant for the estate families.
All of the above is in the context of an island tea industry struggling amidst growing global competition. World tea prices are set beyond Sri Lankan control and the consequent economics of the industry mean tea picker wages here – set by the Government - are kept at what some would consider archaic levels.
Given our setup, I don’t think it’s a terrible cop out to abstain from much involvement in tea picker wages. Others might disagree, but for now we’d prefer to simply focus on ways to pass on the upside of more people visiting this beautiful spot.
A lot of the above is just words of course and we need to ensure something meaningful comes of it. Hopefully this little entry will serve to tie us to that. Do please feel free to mention it when staying at Ash.