Ceylon Tea

I originally became interested in Sri Lanka when I noticed one of my favorite black teas, Saint – James, was grown there. Although Sri Lanka has more to offer than tea, I’ve learned more about black tea than ever before.

Sri Lanka’s colonial economy was originally built off of coffee, however in 1869 blight destroyed the crop. Now, Sri Lanka is the world’s 4th largest tea producer (behind China, India and Kenya). The annual value is $1.5 billion dollars. The combination of high altitude, a warm climate and hilly terrain makes it a perfect place for growing tea. By the 1890’s Lipton’s tea plantations were exporting over 30,000 tons of tea from Sri Lanka to London. Today, the majority of Ceylon tea is exported to the Middle East, North America and Eastern Europe. Although Sri Lanka is famous for it’s black tea, it has started producing and exporting green tea and white tea.


Nick, Dan and I toured the Ceylon Tea Museum outside of Kandy, The Bluefield Tea Factory, and Labookellie Tea Factory outside of Nuwara Eliya. Walking through the 100+ year old factories was fascinating and it was neat to see them still active. The smell of black tea radiated inside of the 4 story tall buildings. The industrial process was very interesting as the only other tea plantation I’ve visited, the process was done by hand.


Nuwara Eliya- Delicately fragrant, 6,240 ft. above sea level, and known as a smooth tea

Uda Pussellawa- exquisitely tangy, known for it’s medium body and flavor

Dimbula- Refreshingly mellow, plantations located at 3,500 to 5,500 feet above sea level, the monsoon rains and cold dry weather produce a range of teas from full bodied to delicate

Uva- Exotically aromatic, grown at 3,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level, it has a unique flavor and is often blended with other herbs and fruits

Kandy-Intensely full-bodied, plantations at 2,000 to 4,000 feet, this tea is strong and flavorful, it’s often served with milk

Ruhuna- Distinctively unique, platntations 2,000 feet above sea level and known for it’s soil

Sabaragamuwa- smooth and full bodied, plantations ranging from sea level to 2,500 feet above sea level, this tea is known for it’s unique leaf appearance and large particle size

Grades of Black Tea

OP – Orange Pekoe, a whole leaf, delicate brew that varies in taste according to region, biggest leaf, light flavor

FBOP – Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe, a semi-leaf with some tip, mellow

BOP1 – Broken Orange Pekoe 1, a well twisted semi-leaf generally from the low country, malty taste

Pekoe – A curly leaf, light and delicate taste

BOP – Broken Orange Pekoe, a popular leaf size, balance of taste and strength, often mixed with other fruits and herbs

BOPF – Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings, smaller than BOP, popular in higher elevations, tastes stronger than BOP, cheap, drank with sugar or milk, used in tea bags

Dust 1 – Fine granular particles, strong, ideal for commercial brewing

FBOPF Ex. Sp – Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings Extra Special, a whole leaf tea with many long tips, mildly caramel and sweet

FBOPF1 – Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings 1, a low country sem-leaf, full bodied, and sweet.

BP1 – Broken Pekoe 1, a larger lead, full bodied, and bright.

PF1 – Pekoe Fannings 1, a smaller size leaf, ideal for tea bags

The Process

Pluck – Tea pickers on average pick 20 kilos of leaves per day and make $4 per day. The tea industry employs 5% of the entire population and mostly consists of women.

Wither – leaves sit and are tossed for 12 hours on a sunny day and 18 hours on a rainy day, 5 kilos of fresh tea leaves turns into 1 kilo of tea

Withering leaves

Crushed & Roll – self explantory


Ferment – ferment for 2 hours, similar process to leaving out a cut apple, the tea leaves turn black, gain aroma and flavor, green and white teas are not fermented

Fermented leaves

Dry – a machine dries leaves for 20 minutes, machines were over 100 years old


Separate – machines using static electricity separate the stems from leaves, the stems are then used for fertilizer

Grade – see the various grades above

Taste – self-explanatory

Pack & Dispatch – It only takes 24 hours from the time the tea is picked to shipped. Most tea is sold at the Colombo auction held twice a week. The companies that buy the tea flavor it with various fruits and herbs depending on the country in which they are selling.


*I learned that the difference between golden tips and silver tips (white tea) is that golden tips are sun dried for 1 month, whereas silver tips are only sun dried for 2 weeks.

*If you are into tea, check out another tea post, Tea Tips, from my travels in China.

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