Genuine Ceylon Tea, from the island nation of Sri Lanka just south of India, is considered one of the worlds’ finest teas, renowned for its high quality and unique, sophisticated taste.
Sri Lanka is currently the third biggest tea-producing country globally, and exports around 23% the global demand. It is the world’s single largest producer of orthodox tea, that is, tea produced by the traditional method.
The history of Ceylon tea was inaugurated by a disaster and grew with a metoric rise. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, remarked of it: “Not often is it that men have the heart, when their one great industry is ruined, to rear up in a few years another as rich to take its place: and the tea fields of Ceylon are as true a monument to courage as is the lion of Waterloo”.
The Definition of Ceylon Tea
Ceylon Tea, from the island nation of Sri LankaTo qualify as genuine Ceylon Tea, a tea must not only be grown, processed, and packed entirely in Sri Lanka, but must also conform to strict quality standards set and upheld by the Sri Lanka Tea Board. Ceylon tea must be completely single-origin and cannot be blended with any percentage of tea from another country. Teas that meet these qualifications may display the trademark Lion of Ceylon; a sword-wielding heraldic lion similar to the bravery-representing lion on the nation’s flag.
“Ceylon” is a previous name for the country of Sri Lanka, and the country was known under that name from the beginnings of its native tea industry in the early 1800s through 1965 when Ceylon reached the status of the world’s largest exporter of tea. When the country changed its name to Sri Lanka in 1972, the tea industry fought and won to keep the widely-recognized name for its product.
The Characteristics of Ceylon Tea
Strong, flavorful, dark, complex, spicy, and citrus are words commonly used to describe Ceylon teas.
Sri Lanka’s tea grows in seven regions spanning three different altitudes. As summarized by the 2014 Sri Lanka Export Development Board’s report on the Tea Sector industry, these regions and the characteristics of the teas they produce are:
High/Upcountry: (Above 1,200 m.)Ceylon tea plantation in Sri Lanka
Nuwara Eliya - Delicately fragrant
Udapussellawa - Exquisitely tangy
Uva - Exotically aromatic
Dimbula - Refreshingly mellow
Mid-Country: (Between 600 - 1,200 m.)
Kandy - Intensely full-bodied
Low-Country: (Below 600 m.)
Sabaragamuwa - Smooth & full-bodied
Ruhuna - Distinctively unique
Leaves from different regions may be blended to yield new nuances of flavor. In addition, sometimes teas are labeled with the month in which they were harvested. While teas can be harvested year-round in differing regions of the island, the best flavors belonging to teas harvested in February-March or August-September. Trying tea from the same location harvested in different months can yield more variations of flavor.
Ceylon tea is picked in a gentle and disciplined way to remove only the bud and the first two young leaves. Most of Ceylon’s tea is produced according to the orthodox method, in which semi-dried leaves and buds are plucked and twisted to partially crush the leaves and start the oxidation process. Ceylon also produces some tea using the unorthodox method, which is also known as Cut Tear and Curl (C.T.C.) and results in smaller, almost granular leaf fragments.
Sri Lankan flagThe History of Ceylon Tea
A single Camellia sinensis plant was brought from China and displayed in the Royal Botanical Gardens in 1824. Plants brought from India in 1839 becane the root of Sri Lanka’s great tea industry. The first tea plantation was established in 1867, 19 acres planted at Low-Country altitude by a Scottish coffee planter named James Taylor. At the time, the country then known as Ceylon was the world’s premier coffee producer.
Two years later coffee rust fungus was introduced to the island, which blighted coffee tree leaves, and within two years most of the coffee crops had been wiped out. The majority of British coffee planters moved away, but about a fifth of them, around 400 planters, switched to growing tea.
Rapid growth in the tea industry attracted interest from large companies, including Lipton, and the East India Tea company imported labor to work the fields; the tea industry was a colonial enterprise. Even after Ceylon won its independence from Britain in 1948, the tea industry remained largely under the power of large British companies. Dilmah brand notably bucked that trend. Founded in 1988 and continuously owned by the Fernando family, Dilmah is Sri Lanka’s most recognized international brand. It is also Sri Lanka’s only completely vertically integrated tea business, involved in every part of the tea production, from growing to processing to packaging to shipping.
The Enjoyment of Ceylon Tea
Remember that the Lion of Ceylon emblem marks packages of pure and genuine Ceylon tea, and that teas from a variety of locations, elevations, and seasons have a variety of nuanced flavors. Sri Lanka has a thriving tourist industry and offers tours of tea estates, private tea tastings, multicultural tea ceremonies, and the Ceylon Tea Museum near the industry’s birthplace in Kandy. If a trip to Sri Lanka is out of the question, perhaps order Ceylon tea online and learn more about the tea’s character and history online.