Ceylon Black Tea: ‘the cup that cheers’.
Sri Lanka has the perfect climate and conditions for the cultivation of tea. This explains why Ceylon black teas are amongst the world’s most exported teas.They are noted for being brisk and for their floral aroma and fruitiness. They appear clear and golden-red in the cup. Almost all Ceylon tea is black.
Tea was first grown in Sri Lanka, in what was then known as Ceylon, on the Loolecondera Estate in 1866 by James Taylor, a Scott, who planted tea seeds imported from China. Until that time Ceylon had grown coffee but this was devastated by coffee-rust fungus forcing crop diversification on the island. Bringing his initial knowledge of tea manufacture from his time in India James Taylor sold his first crop at the London tea auction in 1873 commanding a healthy price. Until a Land Reform Act in 1971 the vast majority of gardens in Sri Lanka remained in British ownership.
Most of the Ceylon tea gardens are located at altitudes of between 3,000 and 8,000 feet. Picking, always as two leaves and a bud, occurs year-round, every eight days or so and as such Ceylon teas do not have first or second flush pickings. Changes in climate across the island’s Wet Zone and changing micro-climates within valleys mean that teas picked at different times of the year have different characteristics. To the east of Sri Lanka the best teas are picked between June and August. To the west the best are picked in February and March. After failing to compete with East African producers for mass-market tea, since the mid 1990’s many tea gardens changed from cut-tear-curl (CTC) methods of manufacture back to the better quality orthodox methods of tea production. It is these teas which have strong followings in many export markets in Europe, the Middle-East and Russia.
Although Sri Lanka is not a large island there are many differences in altitude, topography, soil composition and climate. Rainfall, humidity and winds in particular, give rise to six main tea producing areas with a host of different terroirs. These areas, with examples of gardens we represent, are as follows:
Dimbula are mid-grown teas, at an altitude of between 3,500 and 5,000 feet. These Ceylon teas are the best known, having strong, distinct characters. They are aromatic and richly flavoured. The finest teas are picked in the dry season during January and February. Example – Kenilworth.
Uva are mid-grown teas at an altitude of 2,800 to 6,000 feet. The best being picked between June and September. They are mellow and lighter in body but with a definite concentrated flavour. This is partially due to the hot Cachan winds which blow from the north-east forcing the leaves to close so as to preserve moisture, prompting a chemical change in the leaf. Example – Pettiagalla.
Nuwara Eliya are high-grown teas, from the sides of Pidurutalagala Mountain, the best being picked from January to March. These are considered by experienced Ceylon tea drinkers to be amongst the finest, being smooth, bright golden and floral, reminiscent of apricots and peaches, with well-defined qualities. Altitudes of 6,000 to 8,200 feet are ideally suited to growing the best tea. Example – Court Lodge.
Kandy are low-grown teas. These have good colour and strength but generally lack the distinct characteristics and bright taste of higher grown teas. Example – single-origin Kandy Silver Tip.
Galle is to the south of the island have scented, subtle-tasting teas.
Ratnapura are low-grown teas are mainly use for blending but can be self-drinkers. They may have elegant leaves but lack the pronounced flavours and elegance honed in the cooling winds of high-grown teas.
We sell teas from gardens located in the first four regions listed above. Ceylon blends are produced which should have a bright copper liquor and a rich, fresh flavour. We offer a decaffeinated Ceylon blend otherwise all our Ceylon teas are single-origin.
If you have yet to experience the cup that cheers it is well worth exploring some teas from the main Ceylon producing areas. It then becomes easy to appreciate why there are so many enthusiasts across the globe for these elegant, floral teas which rank amongst the world’s very best.
Visit the Ceylon Teas Section of our Tea Store.