Sri Lanka Holidays
Facebook  Twitter  Google Plus  LinkedIn    My status 

About Us   |   Contact Us   |   Sitemap 

Pick Your Tour

7 Nights Tour

10 Nights Tour

11 Nights Tour

14 Nights Tour

15 Nights Tour

Sri Lanka, the Land of Delights 

Sri Lanka Holidays

Home |  Nature/Adventure |  Ancient Glory |  Rich Package |  Sri Lanka Holidays |  Total Holiday Experience |  Travel Guide |  Lanka History |  Hotel Guide

Must Visit Locations

Tea of Sri Lanka (Ceylon Tea)

The Finest Tea in the World

From Tobacco during Portuguese era to Cinnamon during Dutch era & then to coffee & then to Tea during the British era: superimposing commercial crops on subsistence crop rice & other field crops.

The finest tea in the world is produced in Sri Lanka. In spite of the change of name of the island in the year 1972, Sri Lanka's tea is still branded & marketed as Ceylon Tea. Ceylon tea, with its fine, rich flavour & bright golden colour has no rival in terms of quality. Ceylon Tea remains a cornerstone of the economy of Sri Lanka, being second biggest export behind Garments. The cash crops of Tea, Rubber & Coconut continue to contribute 15% of the foreign exchange of the island.

Although introduced by the British, the tea industry is a source of immense national pride, & recent years have seen some ingenious methods of capitalizing on the country's heritage. Near Nuwara Eliya, Hethersett, an old tea factory has been converted into a magnificent hotel, retaining its original features. The Tea Factory, Kandapola, Nuwara Eliya The polished wood & brass have been restored, the working equipment, including overhead line shaft & pulleys using camel-hair belts, have been maintained in their original condition, whilst 60 luxurious rooms have been carved out of the lofts, for tourists to stay in. Still more, the world's first tea museum has opened up near Kandy.

The British introduced coffee-growing to Ceylon in1824, hoping for a more lucrative crop to replace Cinnamon, much in the same vein as the Dutch replaced Tobacco of the Portuguese with Cinnamon in the island. By 1840s, Coffee was king, with hundreds of thousands of acres of forest in the Kandyan highlands cleared to make way for plantations. But in 1869 disaster struck in the shape of "coffee rust" (a leaf blight - Hemileia vastratrix) which over the next 20 years laid the plantations to waste. Many of the European planters & Sinhalese involved in coffee-growing were ruined. Although first tea was planted in Sri Lanka at the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens, Kandy Royal Botanical Gardens in 1824, it was not grown on a commercial scale till 1867. A few plants brought from China found a very welcome home in the crisp, high sierra of ideal climate. One James Taylor rose to the occasion at the Loolecondera Estate, a little southeast of Kandy. His enterprise paid enormous dividends. Vast area of the central highlands were deforested swiftly & closely planted with tea bushes, interspersed with an occasional gum tree to act as windbreak & for shade. By the end of the 19th century, the island was exporting almost 68 million kilograms of tea annually. Today, about 202,347 ha (500,000 acres) of land in the highlands are devoted to growing finest tea of the world. Today the hill country (Kandy to Nuwara Eliya to Badulla) is virtually one endless, seamless tea plantation.

Who wanted Tea?

Not the Sinhalese. Sri Lanka's countryside & gardens are filled with a variety of aromatic flowers employed in Ayurveda. Herbal teas made with flowers have been the main invigorating beverages as well as healing beverages for an array of maladies & used by the Sinhalese throughout 2550 years of their history.

Following flowers are boiled & herbal teas are made for daily use
Beli Mal
Asoka (Saraca indica); for uterine haemorrhage, haemorrhage dysentery, gynaecological disorders, diabetes
Ranawara (Cassea auriculata): to relive stress
Sapumal (Michellia champaca): stomach ailments
Sepalika (Nyctanthes arbour-tristis); rheumatism
Shoe Flower (Hibiscus rosa sinensis): for uterine haemorrhage
Ehela (Cassia fistula): safe purgative for children or expectant mother
Ratmal (Ixora coccinea)

Following flowers are used in various methods
Picchamal (Jasminum grandiflorum)
Nil Mahanel (Nymphese stelleta)
Lotus (Neumbo nucifera or Nymphaea lotus)
Araliya or Frangipani (Plumeria alba or Plumeria rubra)

The Damage

In the 15th century, prior to invasions of marauding European merchants, one of the most advanced civilization of irrigated agriculture existed in the island of Sri Lanka. This consists of maintaining the highlands receiving high rainfall with natural montane forest cover as catchments for major rivers, while the lowland plains were cultivated with rice & other field crops. In addition spices & other highland crops were cultivated as mixed gardens in selected areas of the mid country where plant canopies at different heights used the solar radiation more efficiently impact while minimizing the raindrop on soil erosion.

With invasion of the foreign colonialists the existing traditional farming system, that once transformed the little island into "the granary of the orient" was superimposed by commercial plantation agriculture.

The colonial predilection for growing commercial crops instead of subsistence crops later was considered by Ceylonese nationalists to be one of the unfortunate legacies of European domination. Late nineteenth- century official documents that recorded famines and chronic rural poverty support the nationalists' argument. Other issues, notably the British policy of selling state land to planters for conversion into plantations, are equally controversial, even though some members of the indigenous population participated in all stages of plantation agriculture. Ceylonese, for example, controlled over one-third of the area under coffee cultivation and most of the land in coconut production. They also owned significant interests in rubber.

The leading Ceylonese Coffee planter, "Rothschild of Ceylon", Sir Charles Henry De Soysa (3rd March 1836-29th September 1890) of Moratuwa prided on management of his estates with no European whatever on the payroll.

In 1869 a devastating leaf disease - hemleia vastratrix struck the coffee plantations and spread quickly throughout the plantation district, destroying the coffee industry within fifteen years. Planters desperately searched for a substitute crop. One crop that showed promise was chinchona (quinine). After an initial appearance of success, however, the market price of the crop fell and never fully recovered. Cinnamon, which had suffered a setback in the beginning of the century, was revived at this time, but only to become an important minor crop.

Among all of the crops experimented with during the decline of coffee, only tea showed any real promise of success. A decline in the demand for Chinese tea in Britain opened up possibilities for Indian tea, especially the fine variety indigenous to Assam. Climatic conditions for the cultivation of tea were excellent in Ceylon, especially in the hill country. By the end of the century, tea production on the island had risen enormously.

"If there had been half a dozen such men as me to lead, there would not be a white man living in the Kandyan Provinces" - last words of Puran Appu (1848)

Veera Puran Appu (Veera Hennedige Francisco Fernando) of Moratuwa (7th of November, 1812 - 8th of August, 1848 ) was executed by the British for leading 1848 Uva rebellion in Kandy, Ceylon.

A serendipitous discovery

The first use of the leaves of the tea plant as a beverage is generally credited to the Chinese emperor Sheng-Nung, who in truly serendipitous manner, discovered the plant's qualities around 2700 BC when a few leaves fell by a chance off a wild tea bush into a pot of boiling water. Rather than waste the contaminated water, the emperor drank it to discover the "cup that cheers". Tea developed into a staple drink of the Chinese, & later Japanese, though it wasn't until the nineteenth century that it began to find a market outside Asia. But it was not until 1833 that the Chinese monopoly on exporting tea was abolished, & the East India Company began to grow tea in Assam in India. Sri Lanka today is the world's third biggest producer of tea, & the largest exporter, with a 20% share of global demand. The bushes now grow from sea level to the highest slopes, though the lush "low green" variety lacks the flavour, colour & aroma which characterise bushes grown above 1000m. The slow-growing bushes at greater heights produce the best flavour & aroma when picked carefully by hand-just two leaves n bud.

Tea production

The tea "bush" is actually an evergreen tree. Camellia sinensis, which grows to around ten meters in height in the wild. Cultivated tea bushes are constantly pruned, producing a repeated growth of fresh young buds & leaves throughout the year. "Ceylon Tea", as its still known, branded & marketed is divided into three types, depending on the altitude at which it is grown. The best quality tea, so called high-grown, only flourishes above 1200m in warm climate & sloping terrain-hence the suitability of the island's Central highlands. Bushes at higher altitude grow more slowly but produce a more delicate flavour. Low-grown tea (cultivated below 600m) is stronger & less subtle in taste, mid-grown tea is somewhere between the two-in practice, blends of the various types are usually mixed to produce the required flavour & colour. The island's finest teas are grown in Uva province & around Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula & Dikoya; the flavours from these different regions are quite distinct, showing (at least to trained palates) how sensitive tea is to soil & climate. Low-grown teas are mainly produced in the Galle, Matara, & Ratnapura regions of the south.

Production process

The entire production process, from plucking to packing, takes around 24 hours, The first stage - plucking the leaves - is still extremely labour intensive, providing work for some 300,000 estate workers across the island (mainly but exclusively women). Tea pickers select the youngest two leaves & bud from the end of every branch-bushes are plucked every seven days in the dry season, twice as often in the wet. Following plucking, leaves are dried by being spread out in huge troughs while air is blown through them to remove the moisture, after which they are crushed for around thirty minutes, an action which releases juices & triggers fermentation-the conditions & length of time under which the leaves ferment is one of the crucial elements in determining the quality of the tea. Once sufficient fermentation has taken place, the tea is fired in a heated chamber, preventing further fermentation & producing the black tea which is the staple form of the drink consumed worldwide (except in China & Japan, where unfermented green tea still hold sway).

Grading Tea

The resultant bulk tea is then filtered into different-sized particles & graded. The finest teas-often described as "leaf" teas, since they consists of relatively large pieces of unbroken leaf-are known "pekoes", "orange pekoes" or souchongs (named after types of Chinese tea), sometimes with the addition of the word "flowery", "golden" or "tippy" to indicate that they use only finest tips of the tea plant. Lower grades are indicated by the addition of the word "broken", while at the bottom of the scale come "fannings" & "dust", which form the basis of most chap commercial tea-although scorned by the connoisseur, these tiny particles have the benefit that they produce a quick, strong brew, & so are perfect for tea bags. Sri Lankan tea-growers have also starting producing fine green (unfermented) & colong (partially fermented) varieties.

Tasting Tea

Following production, tea is sampled by tea tasters-highly specialist profession, as esteemed in Sri Lanka as wine tasters are in France. Flavour experts classify tea as "malty, pointy, bakey, thick, coppery, dull or bright" accordingly to the strength, flavour & colour. Graded tea is then auctioned. Most tea is sold at auction in Colombo, though it is possible to buy pure, unblended teas at shops around the island & sometimes on the estates themselves. The Ceylon Tea Board lion logo guarantees that the stuff you're buying is only pure Ceylon Tea

Tea market

Despite its name & heritage, the Ceylon tea industry (as it is still called) has lost dominance in the world market, cheaper producers having wrested away traditional export markets. Britain, for example, which one absorbed 65% of the total production, now only represents 3%, importing much of its lower grade tea from East Africa. Today Russia & the Middle East are the industry's biggest customers. In recent years however, privatisation & advances in production have improved yields, & producers have responded to trends in the market, beginning to embrace the vogue for green, organic and flavoured teas. In 2003, a new Tea Association was created in order to transform the industry, with investment plans of USD 20 million in the industry over next five years.

Visits to Tea Estates & Factories

Dambatenne Tea Factory, Haputale, Central Highlands
Labookelli Tea Factory, Nuwara Eliya, Central Highlands
Pedro Tea Estate, Nuwara Eliya, Central Highlands
Uva Halpewaththa Tea Factory, Ella, Central Highlands
Loolecondera Estate, Rikiiagaskada, Central Highlands

Want to experience the life at a tea estate... Spend time on a Tea Bungalow

Sri Lanka Hotel Guide - Hotel Information, Special Offers, News and Trends and much more

Sri Lanka Travel Guide - Travel Information, Special Offers, News and Trends and much more

Photo Gallery

click on photo to enlarge

Plucking the Tea Leaves

Sorting Tea Leaves

Drying of Tea Leaves

Grinding or Crushing of Tea

Dividing of Tea Leaves

Grading of Tea Leaves

Packing of Tea Leaves

Cup of Ceylon Tea

Hotels in Cultural Triangle  |  Hotels in Central Highlands  |  Beach Hotels  |  Geoffrey Bawa Hotels  |  Eco Hotels & Lodges  |  Tea Bungalows  |  Resorts & Spa's

Ayurvedic Treatments  |  Ceylon Tea  |  Spice Island  |  Island of Gems  |  Travel Guide  |  Sri Lankan History  |  About Us  |  Contact Us  |  Links

Copyright 2007-2012 - All Rights Reserved by Riolta Lanka Holidays (Pvt) Ltd. Web Site Design by Web Crafts (Pvt.) Ltd.