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Tea In Sri Lanka

Teas from the highest region on the island are described as the "champagne" of Ceylon teas.

Until the 1860s, the main crop produced on the island of Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, was coffee. But in 1869, the coffee-rust fungus, Hemileia vastatrix, killed the majority of the coffee plants and estate owners had to diversify into other crops in order to avoid total ruin. The owners of Loolecondera Estate had been interested in tea since the late 1850s and, in 1866, James Taylor, a recently arrived Scot, was selected to be in charge of the first sowing of tea seeds in 1867, on 19 acres of land.

Taylor acquired some basic knowledge of tea cultivation in north India and made some initial experiments in manufacture, using his bungalow verandah as the factory and rolling the leaf by hand on tables, Firing of the oxidized leaf was carried out on clay stoves over charcoal fires with the leaf on wire trays. His first teas were sold locally and were declared delicious. By 1872,Taylor had a fully equipped factory, and in 1873, his first quality teas were sold for a very good price at the London auction.Through his dedication and determination,Taylor was largely responsible for the early success of the tea crop in Ceylon. Between 1873 and 1880, production rose from just 23 pounds to 81.3 tons, and by 1890, to 22,899.8 tons.

Most of the Ceylon tea gardens are situated at elevations between 3,000 and 8,000 feet in two areas of the southwestern part of the island, to the east of Colombo, and in the Galle district on the southern point. In the hot, steamy plains and foothills, the tea bushes flush every seven or eight days and are picked all year round. The finest teas are gathered from late June to the end of August in eastern districts and from the beginning of February to mid-March in the western parts.

Until 1971, more than 80 percent of the island's tea estates were owned and managed by British companies. In 1971, the Sri Lankan government introduced a Land Reforn Act which gave the state control of the majority of the plantations (which also grow rubber and coconuts for export) leaving about one-third in private hands. Since 1990, a restructuring program has been going on to involve the private sector companies (both Sri Lankan and foreign) as Managing Agents of the state- owned plantations.The long-term aim is for the private managing companies to take on most, if not all, of the financial responsibility and control of the estates, with the government retaining ownership.

Extreme political, industrial, and economic problems threatened Sri Lanka's tea business and in 1993 it fell from the position of number one producer in the world to number eight. Producers faced major decisions regarding production methods, product range, and export markets. Firstly, products containing 100 percent Ceylon tea were to all bear the Lion logo, which was developed by the Ceylon Tea Board, to guarantee the country of origin and protect the image of Sri Lanka's quality teas. Secondly, although Sri Lanka's fine orthodox teas were considered by many to be among the best teas in the world, they were not suitable for tea bags which European tastes demanded. Only 3 percent of production in 1993 was CTC and producers decided to convert to CTC production in order to reach a wider market. They gave cash subsidies to factories to give up making traditional teas and convert to CTCs. However, since then 40 factories have reconverted to making the old orthodox teas. After failing to compete with India and Kenya in the production of CTCs, the Tea Board is now moving back to the production of orthodox teas. Despite this, Sri Lanka has moved up to the third biggest tea producing country globally, has a production share of 9 percent in the international sphere, and is one of the world's leading exporters with a share of around l 9 percent of the global demand.

Sri Lanka's finest teas are produced mainly from bushes tiat grow above 4,000 feet. The bushes grow more slowly in the cooler, mistier climate, and are harder to harvest because of the steep angle of the slopes on which they are planted.

There are six main tea-producing areas. Galle, to the south of the island; Ratnapura, about 55 miles east of the capital Colombo; Kandy, the low region near the ancient royal capital; Nuwara Eliya, the highest area that produces the finest teas; Dimbula, west of the central mountains; and Uva, located east of Dimbula.

The teas produced in each region have their own individual characteristics of flavor, aroma, and colon Low-grown teas, produced at 1,500 to 1,800 feet, are of good quality and give good color and strength but lack the distinctive flavor and bright fresh taste of the higher-grown teas and are usually used ind blending, Mid-grown teas, grown between 1,800 and 3,500 feet, are rich in flavor and give good color. High-grown teas, from heights of between 3,500 and 7,500 feet, are the very best that Sri Lanka produces, giving a beautiful golden liquor and an intense powerful flavor, As well as the wonderful black teas, some estates also produce silver tip white tea that gives a very pale straw-colored liquor and should be drunk without milk. All Sri Lanka's black teas are best drunk with a little milk.

Dimbula
Like Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula is drenched by the monsoon during August and September and produces its best teas during the dry months of January and February.The teas are noted for their body and powerful aroma.

Galle
This area, in the south of the island, specializes in Flowery Orange Pekoes and Orange pekoes that have well-produced, regular-size leaf and give an amber golden liquor with a scented aroma and a fine,gentle ,subtle taste.

Nuwara Eliya
Teas from the highest region on the island are often described as the "champagne" of Ceylon teas.The leaf is gathered all year round, but the finest teas are made from that plucked in January and February. The best teas of the area give a rich, golden, excellent quality liquor that is smooth, bright, and delicately perfumed.

Ratnapura
Ratnapura produces low-grown teas that are mainly used in blends, but also drink well alone or with a litte milk.

Uva
Uva, on the eastern slopes of the central mountains, produces teas with a distinctive mellow flavor whose reputation stretches worldwide.The best teas are plucked between June and September.The dry wind that blows toward Uva during this period gives the teas their fine taste and aroma.

Ceylon Blends
Following a tradition that was established at the end of the nineteenth century by SirThomas Lipton, several companies still market blended Ceylon teas as Ceylon Orange Pekoe or Ceylon BOR, sometimes also by estate name, sometimes not. A good blend will give a bright, rich, coppery liquor with a brisk fresh flavor. In order to be sure of buying 100 percent Ceylon blended teas when buying pre-packed teas, look for the Ceylon Tea Board Lion Logo.

Dimbula
Kenilworth

Characteristics Long, wiry beautiful leaves, that give an exquisite taste, almost oaky, with body and strength.
Brewing hints Brew I teaspoon in a scant I cup water 203°F. Infuse for 3 to 4 minutes.
Drinking recommendations Drink with milk as an afternoon tea.

Galle
Allen Valley

Characteristics Beautiful leaf that gives a smooth, perfumed liquor.
Brewing hints Brew I teaspoon in a scant 1 cup water at 203°F. Infuse for 3 to 4 minutes.
Drinking recommendations Drink with milk as an afternoon tea.

Devonia
Characteristics A very well-made leaf giving a beautiful golden infusion with subtle perfumed taste.
Brewing hints Brew I teaspoon in a scant 1 cup water at 203°f. Infuse for 3 to 4 minutes.
Drinking recommendations Excellent with afternoon tea, taken with a little millk.

Galaboda
Characteristics Regular-shaped leaf that gives a beautiful liquor with good color; wonderfl aroma, and a rich mellow taste.
Brewing hints Brew I teaspoon in a scant 1 cup water at 2Q3°F. Infuse for 3 to 4 minutes.
Drinking recommendations An all-day tea. Drink with milk.

Nuwara Eliya
Nuwara Eliya Estate

Characteristics Bright brisk flavor and wonderful perfume.
Brewing hints Brew I teaspoon in a scant 1 cup water at 203°F. Infuse for 3 to 4 minutes.
Drinking recommendations Good at any time of the day with a little milk.

Ratnapura
Ratnapura

Characteristics Long-leafed tea that gives a slightly sweet aroma and a gentle smooth taste.
Brewing hints Brew 1 teaspoon in a scant 1 cup water at 203°F. Infuse for 3 to 4 minutes.
Drinking recommendations Drink with milk as an afternoon tea.

Uva
Saint James

Characteristics Copper-colored infusion with a very smooth, pronounced taste and wonderful aroma.
Brewing hints Brew 1 teaspoon in a scant 1 cup water at 203°F. Infuse for 3 to 4 minutes.
Drinking recommendations A breakfast or daytime tea. Drink with milk.