5 Top Things to Know About Ceylon Teas

Recently I was contacted by someone wanting to work with me to promote Ceylon Teas. His first question was if I knew anything about these teas. Yep, a bit…well, actually a lot. But I have pared this down to 5 top things (from 7 articles I wrote for another blog). Enjoy!

A favorite of ours!
A favorite of ours!

1 – 3rd or 4th Worldwide in Tea Production

They are the 3rd (or possibly 4th after Kenya which has increased its tea production greatly in recent years) growers of tea in the world. Formerly named “Ceylon,” the country is now called Sri Lanka. The teas, though, are still referred to as Ceylon teas.

Their rank is due to most of their teas being used in blends, including brands like Barry’s and PG Tips. But more and more you can find pure Ceylon teas and even some from various tea estates on the market.

Another factor is that Ceylon black tea is a real taste pleaser with a characteristic raisiny aroma and flavor. Good straight and with milk and sweetener. Pair with:

  • Grilled burgers with all the “fixins”.
  • Pizza, lasagna, macaroni and cheese, pork or turkey dishes, and Mexican foods.
  • Desserts with bananas (banana cream pie, banana bread, banana pudding, etc.).
  • Desserts with raspberries (tarts, jams, preserves on scones or toast).
  • Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

2 – Main Ceylon Tea Growing Regions

Dimbulla

In central Sri Lanka, south of Nuwara Eliya region, west of Uva region. One of the first regions to go from coffee to tea production in the 1870s. Has mountain slopes, ranges from 3900 to 5600 feet elevation, produces teas from full-bodied to delicate.

Nuwara Eliya

In central Sri Lanka, west of Uva region, north of the Dimbulla region, at highest elevation on the island (over 6500 feet). Teas with delicate, floral aromas and a light but brisk flavor whether served hot or chilled, plain or with lemon.

Uva

Best known tea region, east of Nuwara Eliya and Dimbulla, ranges from 3300 to 5600 feet elevation, produces a few white teas but mainly black teas having sweet, woodsy aroma that are good with milk and used in blends where you see “Ceylon” on the label.

Kandy

Elevation ranges from 2100 to 4300 feet. One of the first regions to start growing tea. Teas are classified as “mid country,” known for full body, appeal to those who like a thicker tea liquid with strong flavor.

3 – Three Levels of Ceylon Teas

Tea growing in Sri Lanka is at elevations ranging from sea level to 7,000 feet above sea level and is divided into three elevation zones: high, mid, and low.

Low-Elevation Tea Gardens (sea level to 600 meters)

  • Golden Garden (elev. not specified, Galle region) — Dates from 1906, first tea plants were planted by the owner’s grandfather. Still a family business. Reputation as one of the island’s most successful tea producers.
  • New Vithanakande (elev. not specified, Sabaragamuva region) — Factory has modern equipment, produces well-known teas that sell for top prices at auction.
  • Lumbini (elev. not specified, Deniyaya District) — Small plantation, efficiently run, serve as an example to others. Produces fine teas.
  • Cecilyan (600 feet, Sabaragamuwa District) — In one of finest tea-producing areas on Sri Lanka. Until recently, only made orthodox teas, now also excellent CTC teas.
  • Echkay (600 feet, Sabaragamuwa District) — Consistent low grown teas. Privately owned factory, produces limited quantities, considered “boutique tea” dealer.
  • Batapola (600 feet, Sabaragamuwa District) — High quality production teas, uses green leaf from neighboring plantations (“bought leaf”).

Mid-Elevation Tea Gardens (600meters to 1200 meters)

  • Kenilworth (3,500 feet, Central Province) — Established at start of 20th century, named after a famous castle in England, produces fine teas. Their OP set record for top price bid at auction. Produces around 2 million pounds of black tea per year.
  • Shawlands (3,900 feet, Badulla region) — Madulsima mountain range on one side, Lunugala on other, planted towards end of 19th century. Many of their tea bushes are original, a very unique taste.
  • Sanquhar (elev. not specified, Kandy District) — One of the oldest tea plantations in Sri Lanka. In a valley, produces some of the best green teas on the island.
  • Geragama (1,500 feet, near Kandy) — Yields about 6 tons of tea leaves per day during rainy season (May to September), about 60 hectares. About 600 people working/living there.
  • Sarnia Plaiderie (2,720–3,500 feet, Badulla District) — Managed by Malwatte Valley Plantations Ltd, focused on leafy and semi-leafy teas. Their FBOP, Pekoe, OP1, FBOPF1 and BOP1 grades commanded record prices in recent years.
  • Demodera (2,857 feet, Badulla District in the Uva Province) — Growing tea for 100+ years, cultivates 557,000 hectares. Factory, built in 1912, still produces quality tea at a rate of around 1.2 million ton of tea per year.
  • Sylvakandy Estate (elev. not specified, Kandy region) — A lovely example of Ceylon teas.

High-Elevation Tea Gardens (1200 meters upward)

  • Kirkoswald (4,100 feet, Bogawantalawa Valley, Dimbulla) — Founded by Kirk and Oswald in the 18th century, when the coffee crop was attacked by blight, owners found the estate ideally situated for tea. Most of their teas are Pekoes.
  • Pedro – Lovers Leap (7,000 feet, Central Hills of Nuwara Eliya) — Near ‘lovers leap’ waterfall. Ideal mix of rain and sunshine, exquisite tea. A well-developed factory.
  • Pettiagalla or “Box-shaped Rock” (elev. not specified, Balangoda District) — Established at the turn of the 20th century, in Sri Lanka and often covered in mist, array of premium teas in great demand at tea auctions.
  • Ampittiakande (elev. not specified, Uva Province) — Factory has modern equipment, teas are well-known and in great demand, getting top prices at auction, grown by about 4,000 small holder farmers, about 500,000 pounds of black teas each year.
  • Adawatte (2,600 feet, Uva Province) — Established in 1938, factory rebuilt in 1956. About 663 hectares, produces fine teas during the entire “quality season” in the Uva Province.
  • Weddemulle (3,280–6,230 feet, Nuwara Ellya region) — Offers a great variety of teas, due to extensive re-engineering of the land in the past few years. Quality is consistently high and accounts for the high annual turnover.
  • Dickwella (2,500–4,000 feet, Badulla region) — Variation in elevation, produces teas that subtly change from area to area, sought by tea connoisseurs world-wide. Factory is modern, sits at summit of their land, seen from all over the Uva district.

4 – Used Mostly in Blends

Tea saved Sri Lanka from economic devastation when their coffee crops were killed off by a plant disease. At first, their teas were at a quality level sufficient to replace higher priced teas like Assams in various blends. That trend continues.

Blending can balance out qualities, with stronger flavored teas tempered by those that are more delicate. For example, a tea from the Diayella estate with a mellow flavor mixed with tea from the Lumbini estate with an exceptional deep rich aroma, a copper/red hue, and a spicy sweet flavor yields a blend that combines both flavor characteristics.

For a successful tea blend, blenders must bring the tastes, textures, and colors of different teas together. Once a blend is perfected and is successful on the tea market, the blenders have to be able to produce it consistently. Since Ceylon teas are often used as the base for tea blends, and since the flavor of these teas varies by region, season, and elevation, blenders often start by blending various Ceylon teas.

5 – Very Different from Darjeeling

Around the same time that tea began flourishing in Darjeeling, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) was saved by switching to growing tea when their coffee crops were destroyed by a leaf disease (coffee rust). However, teas from those two major tea producing regions are very different.

Darjeeling — Terrain is hilly, several rivers running through it. Climate often described as close the United Kingdom in terms of rainfall, temperature, and humidity. Very suitable for growing tea, 87 estates in active production, 9 to 10 million kilograms produced every year. Flavors vary by growing season and estate. The quality of Darjeeling teas is controlled by the India Tea Board. There is also a Darjeeling Tea Association dedicated to assuring that Darjeeling teas maintain their high standards and consistency.

Ceylon — Altitude where tea is grown varies from sea level to about 2,000 meters. These changes affect climate conditions, which affect tea taste. The teas are therefore classified into three growth zones, as shown above. True Ceylon tea is labeled with a special logo, a stylized lion, as mandated by the Sri Lanka Tea Board. They are mainly orthodox black teas, generally described as strong, dark, flavorful, having complex hints of orange and spice, and often used in blends. Some are so special tasting that they are sold “pure” (unblended).

There is a growing trend in the tea market toward labeling teas with their year and season harvested. If you really want to experience these teas in all their variety, look for ones with this labeling. For a more consistent taste experience, stick with generically labeled “Ceylon” or “Darjeeling.” You can also find both teas in blends.

Enjoy your ventures into these wonderful Ceylon teas.

© 2015 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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