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
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
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
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.