Sri Lanka, the pearl of the Indian Ocean, is known for its diverse cultures and scenery. It is a land of legendary beauty, diversity and abundant natural and cultural wealth. An Island of 65,610 sq. km just 4 degrees north of the equator, ascending from sea level to approximately 2,400 meters or 7,800 feet, it has been blessed by nature resulting in a diverse array of climates and scenery.
For many people all over the world, Sri Lanka has an instant association with Tea. For the world’s countless tea drinkers, this goes deeper and becomes a special bond. Whether for tea drinkers or others, the whole Ceylon Tea story is one of endless fascination and interest, and it is among the world’s most prized and precious teas.
Sri Lankan teas have been developed to cater to the tastes of tea drinkers all around the globe. The various teas of Sri Lanka are marketed world-wide under the term “Ceylon Tea” and discerning tea drinkers look for specialty teas from among the range of Ceylon Teas produced right throughout the year. It has been said that Ceylon Tea is Sri Lanka’s gift to the world.
The pioneer of commercial tea cultivation in Sri Lanka was James Taylor, a Scottish plantation manager, who successfully planted 80 hectares of tea at Loolecondra estate in the Central highlands in 1867. From 400 hectares by 1900, today tea covers 222,000 hectares in the highland and other areas of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s tea production is around 300 - 310 million kilograms, with a share of around 22 percent of world tea exports. Around 15 percent of Sri Lanka’s export earnings comes from tea. The industry generates employment for more than one million people of Sri Lanka, directly and indirectly.
The strength of Sri Lanka’s tea lies however not merely in the volume of production, but also in its superlative quality. Ceylon tea (tea retains Sri Lanka’s former name as an internationally acknowledged quality prefix.) is a byword for excellence in the world tea trade and among tea drinkers everywhere.
Tea flavour and quality are like wine, dependent on agro climatic conditions, and reputed varieties carry the names of prime growing regions. Thus, Dimbula teas are smooth, mellow and golden, whilst Uva teas are rich and distinctive. Udapusselawa teas are light, bright and rosy, whilst Nuwara Eliya teas are delicate and fragrant and Kandy teas (Medium grown) are bright and coloury.
Teas from low grown areas, often called Ruhunu teas, are characterized by their blackish leaf appearance and strong coloury cup character. Tea grows year-round in Sri Lanka, but many varieties – especially Dimbula and Uva teas –show unique seasonal characteristics, when their distinctive qualities are at their peak. This happens when bright sunny days and cold mist nights combine with dry winds to provide ideal “flavoury season” conditions.
All of Sri Lanka’s tea grows in regions of sublime natural beauty and unforgettable enhancement. Rural peace and tranquility surround rolling hill slopes carpeted in green with closely planted tea bushes, lofty mist-covered forested mountains, sparkling streams, and high waterfalls running throughout the year and which can be seen from different angles as you travel along the roads.
Sri Lanka’s tea plantations are mainly located in the higher elevations, which have a cool, pleasant subtropical climate, and a rich diversity of natural flora and fauna. The tea country included within it, many of Sri Lanka’s most beautiful protected wilderness area, among them the Horton Plains, the Adam’s Peak wilderness and the Hakgala and Udawattekele nature Reserves.
The tea growing regions also contain within them most of Sri Lanka’s spectacular natural sights and wonders, which include the world’s End gorge, the Ginigathena, Ramoboda, Haputale and Bulutota mountain passes, and the Ella gap. Many of the island’s scenically spectacular roads and railways traverse lush tea gradens, making travel in this region a highly enjoyable experience.
Thus, visiting a tea plantation brings with it not only fascinating insights of Sri Lanka’s most famous product, but also a rewarding bonus of numerous other unique attractions.
Tea plantations or “estates” as they are called in Sri Lanka, are of two types – large plantations are self-contained production units of tea gardens ( or fields), nurseries, a processing factory for tea manufacture, bungalows and housing units for all grades of staff, together with land allotments for growing vegetables, fruits and flowers, and for diary and poultry farming, schools, stores, cottage hospitals, clinics, social clubs, and places of worship are also provided within the large plantations, which are professionally managed and well maintained.
Sri Lanka’s annual green leaf production from a hectare of land reaches as much as 6,000 kilograms, depending on various factors, such as the bush variety, soil conditions, weather etc.
The “Ceylon Tea” brands which carry the Sri Lanka Tea Board’s Lion Logo not only denote the country of origin but also project the quality image of Sri Lanka teas. Guidelines for franchise rights for use of the Tea Board’s Logo on tea packs for the export market are being strictly enforced to ensure that exporters conform to the quality standards required for use of the Logo. The Lion Logo on “Ceylon Tea” packs is a guarantee of finest quality for Ceylon Tea.
The quality of teas one would expect may differ from person to person, depending on their taste, aroma, colour and strength etc. There are wide variations in the amount of chemical salts naturally dissolved in drinking water, and tea made with the same blend, usually tasted different in soft or hard water areas. Generally, people get used to the effect of their local water in the tea they drink and choose a blend to suit their preferred taste.
Ceylon tea is exported in a wide range of packets i.e. Foil packs, box board cartoons, soft wooden boxes, poly bags packaging, sachets etc. the export of straight-line teas in raw material form (without any value addition) is now limited to about 10 percent. Export of pre-packed teas account for almost 40 percent of total tea exports from Sri Lanka.
The product ranges of flavaoured teas include more than 150 different types. They are Earl Gray, Lemon, Apple, Peach, Mango, Strawberry, Mint etc. Recently, spice flavours such as cardamom, cinnamon, and clove were introduced. Sri Lankan exporting companies have penetrated into a number of sophisticated markets with flavoured and spiced teas.
At present a volume of about 750mt of organic tea is produced annually. Approx. 500 tons are exported mainly to Western European Countries, Japan, USA, and Australia.
The world has become more and more conscious of the need to consume health foods. As a health drink, tea is in the forefront of all beverages. Sri Lanka is doing all things required to meet the demands of the consumers to satisfy them as to the purity of the beverage they consume.
For this matter teas that are consumed / exported are rigorously ministered from the limited initial stages of planting through harvesting and manufacturing until it reaches the final consumer.
All public sector organizations like the Sri Lanka Tea Board and Tea Research Institute (TRI) and the various private sector voluntary organizations associated with the tea industry are very conscious of their responsibility to meeting challenges in their field to satisfy the consumers.