Tea Producing Regions of the World - Ceylon - 21/05/2015

Ceylon - Tea Country (Picture courtesy of Jane Pettigrew)Until the 1860s, the island of Ceylon’s was a major coffee producer but the coffee-rust fungus (Hemileia vastatrix) caused the crop to fail in 1869.  Some of the planters gave up and went home to Britain; others tried different crops such as quinine and tea and found that tea grew very happily at different altitudes from sea level up to 7000 feet.  Tea had first been introduced to the country in 1824 when tea plants were brought by the British from China and nurtured at The Royal Botanical garden at Perdeniya.  In the 1850s, James Taylor, a pioneering Scot who is today recognized as the founding father of Ceylon tea, planted a few trial bushes at the now famous Loolecondera Estate near Kandy, the old capital. 

Withering the leaf in a Ceylon tea factory (Picture courtesy of Jane Pettigrew)Taylor started manufacturing black tea by hand on the veranda of his bungalow and after the success of his first teas, he set up a fully-equipped black tea factory. His first Ceylon teas were sold in the London tea auctions in 1873. Taylor’s success encouraged others to buy land and establish their own tea plantations and the increasing quantity of black tea being shipped by British companies by the 1880s meant a drop in tea prices and the widespread availability of the commodity to people from all classes’ right across Britain. In 1883, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce established its own tea auctions in Colombo. Today, the country is the world’s fourth largest tea producer, and manufactures mainly orthodox black tea and a small quantity of CTC black. In 1972, Ceylon was named as the Free, Sovereign and Independent Republic of Sri Lanka but the tea industry chose to retain the name of ‘Ceylon’ for the teas which by that time were well known all around the world.

A tea plantation in Sri Lanka (Picture courtesy of Jane Pettigrew)Ceylon teas grow in the southern central highlands and are categorised by the altitude at which they grow. Low-grown teas from Galle and Ruhuna are cultivated at elevations of just above sea level up to 2000 feet. These areas enjoy long periods of sunshine and warm humid conditions and the teas are peaty black in colour, stylish in appearance and give liquors that are rich, strong, malty and smooth.  Mid-grown teas are produced from bushes that grow between 2000 and 4000 feet around Kandy.They give reasonable strength and a clean, brisk flavour, sometimes with floral notes. High grown teas are cultivated at elevations of between 4000 and 7000 feet in Uva, Dimbula and Nuwara Eliya.  During the quality season in August, September, Uva produces teas with bright golden liquor and an intense, brisk, mouth-filling, almost medicinal character. This very special unique character is thought to be due to the dessicating wind that sweeps through the area in July and August. Quality Dimbula teas, produced between December and February, are fragrant, subtle, multi-layered and aromatic.

A little touch of Scotland in the Sri Lankan tea hills (Picture courtesy of Jane Pettigrew)Situated close to the equator, the Sri Lanka does not experience major seasonal changes through the year. Instead, the character and quality of the teas are influenced by the changing periods of monsoon rain, chilly or intensely dry, hot winds that prevail at different times through the year in the different regions. The best quality teas are produced during periods of cool air and low rainfall when the growth of the bushes is slow.  Warm air and too much rain cause the bushes to grow much faster and therefore lose the valued concentration of flavour and fragrance. The best of Ceylon’s teas are prized around the world.  The stronger, richer, low grown teas sell well in Russia and the Arab States. The more fragrant subtle teas from the high grown areas are sought after in Europe and North America. To protect the integrity of Ceylon tea, the Ceylon Tea Board introduced the lion logo quality mark which may only be used on packets which contain 100% Ceylon tea and have been packed in Sri Lanka.

Produced by: Jane Pettigrew
Added: Saturday, 5th February 2011