What is Ceylon Tea (Sri Lankan Tea)
The first tea estate in Sri Lanka was the Loolacondara Estate established in 1867 by James Taylor (Scottish born). Shortly after his initial success, a severe blight devastated Sri Lankan coffee plants in 1869 and most of the coffee fields were eventually abandoned. The terrain used for coffee was suitable to tea (which was immune to the disease) as Taylor had shown. Thomas Lipton (also Scottish born), among others, started buying up much of this land after meeting Mr. Taylor (and we’ve all heard of Lipton’s). Tea from Sri Lanka has always been primarily driven by export and still goes by its colonial name of “Ceylon” since this is the brand name it was built upon.
Sri Lankan Tea Growing regions
Ceylon high-grown districts (4,000+ feet):
Ceylon mid-grown districts (2,000-4,000 feet):
Ceylon low-grown districts (up to 2,000 feet):
View from Lumbini Tea Factory, southern Ruhuna district
Sri Lankan Climate
Since Sri Lanka is very near the equator, it is able to produce tea year-round.
Sri Lanka has two monsoon seasons – a unique feature due to its geographic location and the mountain range running north-south vertically down the island. The monsoons sweep down one side of the island but don’t cross the mountains. Six months later the monsoons sweep up the other side of the island. This gives a very small island two different growing seasons with the highest quality tea produced from January through March in the western regions and August through November in the eastern regions.
Types of Ceylon Tea
Like India, traditional Ceylon tea is black tea. It is possible to find Ceylon green tea and white tea on the market, but these are uncommon. There are approximately 500 tea factories in Sri Lanka that produce over 320kg a year. The vast majority of this is orthodox black tea for export – making Sri Lanka one of the largest tea exporters in the world. Tea maker’s there primarily use the Camellia sinensis var. Assamica tea plant, which is suitable to the particular growing conditions of the island. The cup profiles tend to follow the geography with higher-grown teas producing soft, floral characters and the lower-grown producing full bodied, earthier characters. But location is not destiny and an individual tea makers talents and decisions are just as important to the quality of the finished tea.