Ceylon black tea is black tea that is grown in Sri Lanka (called Ceylon before 1972). It has a crisp aroma reminiscent of citrus, and is used both unmixed and in blends. It is grown on numerous estates which vary in altitude and taste.
The production of black tea in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) began after a deadly fungus called 'Hemileia vastatrix' destroyed most of the coffee crop on the island. The coffee plantation owners realized that they needed to diversify. The Loolecondera Estate had long been interested in producing tea in Sri Lanka. James Taylor, one of the fathers of Ceylon Tea, had recently arrived on the Estate and wanted to be there for the sowing of the first tea crops in 1867 which was was done on 19 acres of land.
James Taylor was already experienced in tea cultivation. He had acquired his knowledge in North India. He carried out different experiements on cultivating tea on the verandah of his estate. He rolled the leafs by hand and fired the oxidized leaves on clay stoves over charcoal fire.
The tea that James Taylor made was delicious and sold for a very good price in the London Auction. The tea craze hit Ceylon. By 1890 tea production was at 22,900 tons up from just a mere 23 pounds between 1873 and 1880.
Until 1971, most of the tea companies in Sri Lanka were British-owned but this soon changed after the Land Reform Act was introduced to reacquire land in foreign hands. Since 1990, a new plan has been devised to share the industry between state-owned companies and privately owned companies.
Green tea is produced using various methods of manufacture. Green tea manufacture methods were first developed in China using Chinese clonal stock, which seed stock was in later centuries exported to Indonesia, Japan and Brazil. These manufacture methods were later developed in India using Assamese clonal stock. It is the Assamese variety that is mainly used in Ceylon today. This is the reason most of the Ceylon green teas have the characteristic darker colour in the cup of Assamese clonal stock teas. This is reflected in the flavour of the Ceylon green tea, which flavour is different than Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Brazilian green teas.
Ceylon green teas, based on the Assamese variety of original seed stock, generally have the fuller body and the more pungent, rather malty, nutty flavour characteristic of the teas originating from Assamese seed stock. The grade (leaf size and style) names of most Ceylon green teas reflect traditional Chinese green tea nomenclature, such as tightly rolled gunpowder tea or more open leaf tea grades with Chinese names like Chun Mee.
Overall, the green teas from Sri Lanka have their own characteristics at this time - they tend to be darker in both the dry and infused leaf, and their flavour is richer; this could change in the future as market demand preferences change, if the Ceylon green tea producers start using more of the original Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Brazilian seed base, which produces the very light and sparkling bright yellow colour and more delicate, sweet flavour with which most of the world market associates green teas. At this time, Ceylon remains a very minor producer of green teas and its green teas, like those of India and Kenya, remain an acquired taste; truly, a specialty type of rare tea.
White tea is tea made from new growth buds and young leaves of the plant Camellia sinensis. The leaves are steamed or fired to inactivate oxidation, and then dried. White tea therefore retains the high concentrations of catechins which are present in fresh tea leaves. As white teas contain buds and leaves, whereas other teas are mainly leaves, the dried tea doesn't look green and has a pale appearance. Buds and young tea leaves have been found to contain higher levels of caffeine than older leaves, suggesting that the caffeine content of some white teas may be slightly higher than that of green teas. Ceylon White tea (Sri Lanka) is highly prized, and is grown and harvested by hand. The move towards producing White tea shows a clear line between organically farmed tea that is fair and rewarding to the farmers and drinkers and the monopoly of mass produced tea. Prices per kilogram of Ceylon White tea are significantly higher than other teas from the region.
Oolong Tea (Chinese)
This chinese tea variety is now starting to be grown in Sri Lanka. Oolong is a traditional Chinese tea somewhere in between green and black in oxidation, ranging from 10% to 70% oxidation. It has a taste more akin to green tea than to black tea: it lacks the rosy, sweet aroma of black tea but it does not have the stridently grassy vegetal notes that typify green tea. The best Oolong has a nuanced flavor profile. It is commonly brewed to be strong, with the bitterness leaving a sweet and pleasant aftertaste. Oolong tea leaves are often processed and rolled into long curly leaves or into ball-like form similar to gunpowder tea.
The word oolong means "black dragon" in Chinese; various legends describe the origin of this curious name. In one legend, the owner of a tea plantation was scared away from his drying tea leaves by the appearance of a black serpent; when he cautiously returned several days later, the leaves had been oxidized by the sun and gave a delightful brew. Another tale tells of a man named Wu Liang (later corrupted to Wu Long, or Oolong) who discovered oolong tea by accident when he was distracted by a deer after a hard day's tea-picking, and by the time he remembered about the tea it had already started to oxidise. Others say that the tea is called "oolong" because the leaves look like little black dragons that wake when hot water is poured on them.
Ceylon Tea Museum
Sri Lanka Tea Board has a Tea Museum in Hantana, Kandy. Although exhibits are not abundant they do provide a valuable insight into how tea was manufactured in the early days. Old machinery, some dating back more than a century, has been lovingly restored to working order. The first exhibit that greets visitors in the Engine Room on the ground floor of the museum is the Ruston and Hornsby developed diesel and other liquid fuel engines, power for the estates were obtained by water driven turbines.
The Museum's "Rolling Room" offers a glimpse into the development of manufacturing techniques with its fascinating collection of rollers. Here the showpiece is the manually operated ' Little Giant Tea Roller'. It Also houses tea shops and a restaurant that give visitors an opportunity to taste and take home fine Ceylon tea.
Tea-growing Areas in Sri Lanka
There are six main tea-producing areas in Sri Lanka:
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
Dimbulla, west of the central mountains
Uva, located east of Dimbulla
Morawak Korale district tea is grown at up to 2,500 feet
Kandy district tea is grown at 2,500 feet or above
Uva district tea is grown at 2,800 feet or above
Dambulla and Dickoya tea is grown at 3,500 feet or above
Nuwara Eliya tea is grown at 6,000 feet or above