If you’re a tea lover, you’re going to love this. If not, then I am sorry because tea is great. Take this as an introduction to tea, then, if you will.
It all started with a lone camellia sinesis plant that the British brought from China in 1824 to an island then known as Ceylon. The British and their tea, this doesn’t sound like anything new, does it? 40 years later, a Scottish coffee planter called James Taylor planted 19 acres of tea in that same island, which, in case you didn’t know, renamed itself to Sri Lanka later on. However, during the 1860s, Sri Lanka was the world’s largest coffee producer, so no one paid attention to tea at that moment.
But do not fret, my tea-loving friends, for fate (or something) had a surprising twist in store for those precious leaves. Coffee rust was detected on the island, financial ruin for the island’s coffee planters. Most of them left, but the ones who remained switched to tea, and by the year 1890, Thomas Lipton purchased tea estates and 23.000 tons of tea were exported to London.
Ceylon had become one with tea.
And even after Ceylon had gained independence from the British, the industry was still dominated by them and it wasn’t until one of the first indigenous tea tasters, Merrill J. Fernando, dreamt of packaging and marketing 100% Ceylon tea, founding Dilmah Tea in 1998—which is now Sri Lanka’s most famous international tea brand. And to add a last fact to this small history lesson, Ceylon changed their name to Sri Lanka in 1972.
Now we’re ready to pass on to the actual tea lesson.
So, what’s the deal about Ceylon tea?
Due to Sri Lanka’s geographical location, tea can be plucked all year round. Depending on the height, there are three categories: low grown, medium grown and high grown, which results in a wide range of different flavours and colours. This range is expanded even more by blending teas of different areas. From full-bodied teas to light and delicate ones, you will find something for every taste in Ceylon blends.
Here are some of the most popular varieties:
Dimbula: Probably the most famous of them all, grown at altitudes of over 1,52km above sea level. Light and bright in colour, its strong flavour leaves you with a fresh and clean feeling in the mouth. It serves as a good afternoon tea.
Kenilworth: Produced from long, wiry leaves that are larger than most Ceylon tea leaves, this tea has a pleasant, oaky taste with a good body and strength. It’s particularly well-flavoured if you add lemon to it, and can also be served cold.
Uva: Also high grown, this tea has a bright, deep amber colour and of course the characteristic brisk, strong Ceylon flavour. Its smooth taste and wonderful aroma make it a good breakfast or after-lunch tea.
Nuwara Eliya: Often described as the “champagne” of Ceylon teas, this leaf is gathered all year round, but the best tea is made in January and February. Golden in colour and delicately perfumed, this tea is good at any time of the day with a little milk.
Ratnapura: A low grown leaf that can be used in other blends but can also be drunk alone with a little milk. Its long leaves give it a slightly sweet aroma and a gentle taste, making a good afternoon tea.
Now, I’m sure this is going to make your life much easier when it comes to tea choosing. But of course that is not the only thing Sri Lanka has to offer, so in case this woke up your curiosity and you want to discover more of its beautiful secrets besides tea making, I highly recommend you to tune in to Wild Sri Lanka, premiering in March on NatGeo!