Ceylon Tea: The Story of Sri Lanka’s Iconic Brew

Tea is one of the most beloved beverages in the world, and Ceylon tea is a top contender for the title of the world’s best. Grown in Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, this tea has a long and fascinating history that dates back to the 19th century. In this article, we will explore the origins of Ceylon tea, how it is grown and processed, and why it is considered one of the finest teas in the world.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Origins of Ceylon Tea
  3. The Tea Industry in Sri Lanka
  4. How Ceylon Tea is Grown and Processed
  5. Types of Ceylon Tea
  6. The Importance of Origin ( Areas ) 
  7. Health Benefits of Ceylon Tea
  8. Ceylon Tea Around the World
  9. Popular Ceylon Tea Brands 
  10. FAQs

1. Introduction

Ceylon tea, also known as Sri Lankan tea, is a black tea grown and produced in Sri Lanka. It is widely regarded as one of the best teas in the world due to its unique flavour, aroma, and colour. The history of Ceylon tea dates back to the 19th century, when the British introduced tea cultivation to Sri Lanka. Today, Ceylon tea is a significant export for Sri Lanka and is enjoyed by tea lovers worldwide.

2. The Origins of Ceylon Tea

Ceylon tea, also known as Sri Lankan tea, is a type of tea that is produced exclusively in the island nation of Sri Lanka. This unique tea has a long and fascinating history, dating back to the early 1800s, and is renowned worldwide for its distinctive flavour and aroma. The British first established a colony in Sri Lanka. The island was already known for its coffee plantations, but when a fungal disease devastated the coffee industry in the late 1800s, the British turned to tea as a replacement crop.

In 1867, a Scottish planter, James Taylor, planted the first tea bushes in Sri Lanka. The bushes thrived in the island’s tropical climate and rich soil, and soon other planters followed suit. By the turn of the century, Sri Lanka had become a major tea-producing nation, exporting millions of pounds of tea to Europe and America.

In the years that followed, Ceylon tea continued to gain popularity worldwide, thanks in part to the efforts of the Sri Lankan Tea Board, established in 1976, to promote the nation’s tea industry. Today, Sri Lanka is the world’s fourth-largest tea producer, and millions of people around the globe enjoy Ceylon tea.

3. The Tea Industry in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s economy depends on the tea industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of people and brings in a lot of money from exports. Tea is the country’s second-largest export after textiles, and Sri Lanka is the world’s fourth-largest tea producer. 

Tea plantations are the backbone of Sri Lanka’s tea industry. The country has more than 200,000 hectares of land devoted to tea cultivation, much of it in the highlands, where the climate is excellent, and the soil is fertile. Large companies or cooperatives typically own the plantations, but many small-scale growers sell their tea leaves to larger processors.

Sri Lanka’s tea is exported to more than 160 countries worldwide, with the most important markets being Uk, Russia, Iran, Australia and Iraq. Tea is a popular beverage in many parts of the world, and Sri Lanka’s reputation for producing high-quality tea has helped it to maintain a strong presence in the global market.

There is a growing demand for high-quality, sustainably-produced tea, and Sri Lanka is well-positioned to meet that demand. In recent years, the industry has also been experimenting with new tea varieties, such as white and green tea, which could open up new markets and revenue streams. With suitable investments and strategies, the tea industry in Sri Lanka can continue to thrive for many years.

4. How Ceylon Tea is Grown and Processed

Ceylon tea is grown and processed in a specific way that gives it its unique flavour and aroma. Here’s a closer look at how Ceylon tea is grown and processed:

Growing Conditions: Ceylon tea is produced in the highlands of Sri Lanka, where the climate is excellent, and the soil is rich in nutrients. The tea bushes thrive in this environment, producing tender leaves ideal for making high-quality tea.

Plucking the Leaves: Tea leaves are typically plucked by hand, ensuring that only the most tender leaves are harvested. The plucking is done by skilled workers who carefully select suitable leaves and buds for processing.

Withering: Once the leaves have been plucked, they are spread out on large trays and left to wither. This process removes excess moisture from the leaves, making them more pliable for rolling.

Rolling: After withering, the leaves are rolled to release the natural oils and flavour compounds. This is done using a rolling machine or by hand, depending on the scale of the operation. Rolling also helps to shape the leaves into the desired size and shape.

Fermenting: The rolled leaves are then left to ferment for a short period, usually between 30 minutes to a few hours. This process helps to develop the unique flavour and aroma of the tea.

Drying: After fermentation, the leaves are dried in large ovens or by exposure to the sun. This stops the fermentation process and locks in the flavour and aroma of the tea.

Sorting: The final step is sorting, where the leaves are graded according to size, shape, and quality. The best leaves are reserved for high-end teas, while lower-grade leaves are used for cheaper blends.

5. Types of Ceylon Tea

Ceylon tea comes in various types with unique flavours and aromas. Here’s a closer look at some of the most popular types of Ceylon tea:

Black Tea: Black tea is the most common type of Ceylon tea, accounting for more than 90% of the tea produced in Sri Lanka. It is made from withered and fermented tea leaves, which gives it its distinctive flavour and aroma. Ceylon black tea is known for its robust and full-bodied taste and is often enjoyed with milk and sugar.

Green Tea: Green tea is a popular alternative to black tea, especially for those seeking a milder flavour and lower caffeine content. It is made from unfermented tea leaves that are steamed and dried. Ceylon green tea has a light, refreshing taste with grassy and floral notes.

White Tea: White tea is a rare and expensive tea made from the youngest leaves and buds of the tea plant. The leaves are withered and dried but not fermented or rolled, which gives it a delicate, subtle flavour with floral and fruity notes. Ceylon white tea is highly prized for its soft and nuanced taste.

Oolong Tea: Oolong tea is a partially fermented tea that falls between black and green tea in terms of flavour and aroma. It is made from withered leaves that are partially fermented and then dried. Ceylon oolong tea has a complex, multi-layered flavour with floral and nutty notes.

Flavoured Tea: Flavored tea is a popular way to enjoy Ceylon tea, as it can be infused with various natural flavours like fruit, flowers, and spices. Flavored Ceylon tea comes in different blends, including Earl Grey, masala chai, and vanilla.

Each type of Ceylon tea has its unique flavour and aroma, making it easy to find one that suits your taste preferences. Whether you prefer solid and full-bodied black tea or delicate and nuanced white tea, Ceylon tea has something to offer for every tea lover.

6. the Importance of Origin ( Areas ) 

The discovery of the influence of the different climates on tea production has led to the creation of a variety of quality teas unique to each agro-climatic area in Sri Lanka. It cannot be found anywhere else on earth. Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula, Uva, and Uda Pussallawa in the highland region, Kandy in the middle country, and Ruhuna and Sambalgamuwa in the low country region of Sri Lanka are internationally renowned for their teas.

Nuwara Eliya: The most famous tea-growing region in Sri Lanka, is the hilliest and has the most significant average altitude. Coupled with a low temperature, this yields teas with an exceptional aroma. The infusion in the cup is the palest of all Ceylon Tea varieties, with a golden colour and a delicately aromatic flavour. Whole-leaf Orange Pekoe (OP) and Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP) are this region’s most desired tea grades. 

Dimbula: Between Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains lies the district of Dimbula, whose teas are defined as “high grown” as all estates exceed an altitude of 1,250m (4000 Feet). The region’s complex topography produces various microclimates, which have differences in flavour – sometimes jasmine mixed with cypress. All, however, share the Dimbula character: a tea that makes a delicate golden-orange hue in the cup and which is refreshingly mellow.

Uva: The distant Uva precinct is exposed to the northeast and southwest monsoon winds, which is thought to provide the tea grown here with a unique, distinct personality and exotically fragrant flavour. Thomas Lipton, a Victorian entrepreneur, convinced Americans to consume tea by using tea cultivated on his Uva plantations. Once encountered, the mellow, smooth flavour of Uva tea is instantly distinguishable.

Uda Pussellawa: While Uda Pussellawa is adjacent to Nuwara Eliya, its tea is frequently compared to its neighbour’s. In contrast, it is darker in the cup, with a reddish tint, more potent, and wonderfully tart. Supposedly, colder circumstances at the end of the year impart a trace of rose to the aroma of a tea with a medium body and delicate flavour. Yet, heavy precipitation tends to yield even darker and more robust tea in taste.

Kandy: The teas produced in the Kandy area, where the industry originated in 1867, are known as “mid-grown” since cultivation does not surpass 1,300 metres. The flavour varies based on altitude and whether or not the plantation is protected from monsoon winds. They are delicious. The infusion of Kandy teas is brilliant with a coppery hue, and they are robust and powerfully full-bodied.

Ruhuna: The teas of the Ruhuna region are considered “low-grown” because they are produced at an altitude of fewer than 600 metres in extensive subregions ranging from the coastal plains to the southern border of the Sinharaja Rain Forest. The soil, together with the estates’ low height, promotes the tea bush’s rapid growth, resulting in the production of long, attractive leaves. Full-flavoured black tea is a speciality that is uniquely Ruhuna. The facilities that create Ruhuna leaves generate various leaf types and sizes, including the desired “tips.”

Sabaragamuwa: Sabaragamuwa is the largest district in Sri Lanka, and its tea gardens range from sea level to 610 metres. Sabaragamuwa, situated between Sinharaja in the south and Adam’s Peak wilderness in the north, produces a shrub with a large leaf that multiplies. The beverage is also comparable to Ruhuna teas; it is dark yellow-brown with a hint of crimson. The scent, however, is significantly distinct from that of the Ruhuna goods, with a note of sweet caramel that is not quite as strong but yet exquisitely refined.

7. Health Benefits of Ceylon Tea

In addition to its delicious taste and aroma, Ceylon tea is also packed with health benefits. Here are some of the ways that drinking Ceylon tea can benefit your health:

Boosts Immune System: Ceylon tea is rich in antioxidants, which help to boost the immune system and protect the body from disease. Antioxidants also help to fight free radicals, which can damage cells and contribute to aging and disease.

Promotes Heart Health: Ceylon tea has been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease thanks to its ability to lower blood pressure and improve cholesterol levels. In addition, Ceylon tea contains compounds called flavonoids, which help to improve blood flow and reduce inflammation in the body.

Supports Digestive Health: Ceylon tea contains tannins, which are natural compounds that help to soothe the digestive system and reduce inflammation. As a result, Ceylon tea can help ease digestive problems like bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

Boosts Mental Alertness: Ceylon tea contains caffeine, which can help to boost mental alertness and improve focus. However, Ceylon tea has a lower caffeine content than coffee, making it an excellent alternative for those looking for a milder caffeine boost.

Promotes Weight Loss: Drinking Ceylon tea can help to boost metabolism and promote weight loss. Ceylon tea contains compounds called catechins, which have been shown to help the body burn fat and reduce body weight.

Promotes Oral Health: Ceylon tea contains fluoride, which can help to strengthen tooth enamel and prevent cavities. Drinking Ceylon tea can also help to freshen your breath and reduce the growth of harmful bacteria in the mouth.

Ceylon tea is a delicious and healthy beverage that offers a wide range of health benefits. Whether you’re looking to boost your immune system, promote heart health, or improve mental alertness, Ceylon tea is an excellent choice for a healthy and refreshing drink.

8. Ceylon Tea Around the World

Sri Lanka is the largest producing nation that adds value to its tea before exporting it. Many tea packets and bags are shipped yearly, accounting for around 40% of the total volume and 45% of the total income. Boxboard cartons, foil packs, soft wooden boxes, metal cans, ceramic jars, and wooden boxes are all used to export Ceylon Tea.

Nowadays, Ceylon Tea is exported to close to 160 nations. The Middle East, Gulf, and North Africa area continues to absorb more than fifty per cent of Sri Lanka’s exports. The Russian Federation and CIS nations continue to be the second most significant market for Ceylon Tea, accounting for around 20% of total exports.

The Far East is becoming an important market for Ceylon teas. The most promising new market has been identified as China, which imports over 10 million kg of Ceylon black tea yearly and ranks seventh in the buyer’s inventory. Japan is the other historic importer of Ceylon Tea in the region of the Far East. The most recent trend is the gradual growth in demand for Sri Lankan tea bags in West Africa.

Sustainability is not a trendy buzzword among Sri Lanka’s tea industry participants. However, in recent years, the push for sustainable practices in all facets of the cultivation, manufacturing, storage, transportation, and distribution of Ceylon Tea has gained speed as new laws and industry standards have been implemented.

9. Popular Ceylon Tea Brands

Many famous Ceylon tea brands are widely available in Sri Lanka and worldwide. Here are a few of the most well-known brands:

Dilmah: Founded in 1988 by Merrill J. Fernando, Dilmah is one of Sri Lanka’s most famous tea brands. The company is known for its commitment to quality and sustainability, and its teas are available in over 100 countries.

Akbar Tea: Based in Sri Lanka, Akbar Tea is a family-owned company that has been producing high-quality Ceylon teas since 1972. The company offers many teas, including black, green, and flavoured varieties.

Basilur Tea: Basilur is a Sri Lankan brand known for its unique blends and packaging. The company offers many teas, including black, green, white, and herbal blends.

Melsna Tea: is a premium tea brand specialising in producing high-quality Ceylon teas. The company is based in Sri Lanka, and Melsna was founded in 2003 to create delicious and sustainable teas.

10. FAQs About Ceylon Tea

Here are some frequently asked questions about Ceylon tea:

1. What is the best way to brew Ceylon tea?

The best way to brew Ceylon tea depends on personal preference. Generally, Ceylon tea should be brewed with water that has just come to a boil and steeped for 3-5 minutes. However, some people prefer a stronger or weaker brew, so it’s important to experiment to find the perfect brewing method for you.

2. Is Ceylon tea high in caffeine?

Ceylon tea contains caffeine, but the amount can vary depending on the type of tea and how it is brewed. Generally, black teas like Ceylon tea have more caffeine than green or white teas.

3. Can Ceylon tea be consumed with milk and sugar?

Yes, Ceylon tea can be consumed with milk and sugar. This is a common way to enjoy Ceylon tea in many countries, including the United Kingdom and India.

4. What are the health benefits of drinking Ceylon tea?

Ceylon tea is a rich source of antioxidants and has been shown to have numerous health benefits, including improved heart health, better digestion, and reduced risk of certain types of cancer.

5. Is Ceylon tea a sustainable crop?

The tea industry in Sri Lanka has made significant efforts to make Ceylon tea a more sustainable crop. Many tea estates use eco-friendly farming practices and work to protect the natural environment. Additionally, the industry has implemented fair labour practices to ensure workers are treated fairly.

Ceylon tea is a delicious and versatile beverage that can be enjoyed in many ways. A Ceylon tea is perfect whether you prefer hot or iced, with milk or without. With its rich history and many health benefits, Ceylon tea is a beverage that will delight and refresh.


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