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  Tea bushes on slopes are a familiar part of the Sri Lankan landscape. Over 221,000 hectares or approximately 4% of the country’s land area is covered in tea. Growing best at high altitudes of over 2100 m, these plants require an annual rainfall of more than 100-125 cm.

Tea is cultivated in Sri Lanka using the ‘contour planting’ method, where tea bushes are planted in lines, which follow the contours of the land. Young tea plants are frequently cut back 10-15 cm from the ground to encourage lateral growth. The plants are pruned regularly to prevent them from becoming trees, and the resultant bushes are flat topped and about 1m in height. Pruning methods vary within the country, but the procedure is always a skilful operation, performed with a sharp, specially shaped knife as the tea bush should in no way be damaged during the process.

Nurturing the tea bushes and treating the soil in which they grow are an integral part of tea cultivation. Regular application of fertiliser ensures healthy leaf growth.

For commercial manufacture the ‘flush’ or leaf growth on the side branches and stems of the bush are used. Generally two leaves and a bud are plucked - a skilful operation carried out in Sri Lanka by women. Over the years female workers have acquired the ability to quickly pluck the leaves, which are then transferred to baskets carried on their backs. A tea plucker usually aims for a daily target of 15 to 20 kg of tea leaves. The plucked tea is then weighed and transported to the nearby tea factory with as little delay as possible.

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