Ceylon tea refers to tea that originates from the island of Sri Lanka, located south of India. Sri Lanka was formerly known as Ceylon, and the tea refers to the past name.
Sri Lanka is a mountainous island and as a result, Ceylon tea is grown at a variety of altitudes, and Ceylon tea has a variety of flavors. Tea is grown from 2500 feet to over 6000 feet. It is said that the best Ceylon tea is grown at 4000-5000 feet.
Ceylon tea is mainly black tea, but recently tea estates have experimented with both green and oolong teas.
History of Ceylon tea
For many years, the main crop produced on Ceylon was coffee. However, after coffee crops were decimated by a fungus in 1869, the remaining estate owners were forced to diversify into tea to survive.
Several bankrupt tea estates were bought by Sir Thomas Lipton, whose company, Lipton Tea, eventually became one of the largest tea companies in the world. At one point, Lipton Tea owned over twenty tea estates on the island.
Until 1971, over 80% of the tea estates on the island were owned and managed by British companies. This changed when the Sri Lankan government initiated the Land Reform Act which gave control of the majority of estates to the government. However, since 1990 private interests have become more involved in the management of the estates.
Estates and varieties of Ceylon tea
There are five estates and five broad varieties of Ceylon tea.
- Dimbula is a region that is drenched by the monsoon during August and September. The best teas from this region are from the dry months of January and February. Dimbula is a Ceylon Tea noted for its strength and powerful aroma. The tea is recommended with milk.
- Galle is located in the southern part of the island. Tea from this region has regular-sized leaves and has a golden appearance when brewed. Galle tea is known for its gentle, subtle taste, and is recommended with milk.
- Nuwara Ellya is noted as the best quality Ceylon tea. Tea from the Nuwara Ellya region has a bright flavor and the liquid has a golden appearance. Tea from this region is best drunk with little or no milk.
- Uva is a region to the east of the central mountains and produces tea with a mellow flavor. The best teas from this region are harvested between June and September. The Ceylon Tea from this region are copper colored, with a smooth taste and is complimented well with milk.
- Ratnapura is a region that produces low-quality Ceylon tea. The tea grown from this region is mainly used as part of blends, but some are also sold alone. Tea from this region has a long-leaved appearance and a gentle, smooth taste. They can be drunk alone or with milk.