Ceylon tea, this ever-popular beverage is Ceylon's precious gift to the world. Sri Lanka referred as "Ceylon" before the independence, is a small island nation located in the Indian Ocean. Thanking its ideal location on the tropics, the country has been blessed with many natural resources and fertile lands from history. Tea cultivation in the country began in 1867 when the country was governed under the British crown as one of their colonies. During this era, the world tea market was dominated by different Chinese tea verities; however, the teas that were produced in Ceylon had its own unique qualities and flavor. Since its first tea shipment in 1872, the teas that were produced in Ceylon started to get increasing popularity and the tea brand name of the country slowly started to develop as “Ceylon Tea”.Nearly after 150 years from its commencement, the country still uses the term "Ceylon Tea" as the brand name for its tea products. Unique quality and flavor characteristics, seasonality of tea as well as the Orthodox style of manufacturing have given a competitive edge to Ceylon tea event today, despite the growing competition from many other tea planting countries. The country is now the 4th largest tea exporter in the world and available in many verities such as Black tea and Green tea. The country is blessed with ideal climatic conditions for tea cultivation and it plays a major role in the success of the tea industry in Sri Lanka. Around 4% of the country’s land area is covered by tea plantations and it is continuing to grow.
The origin story of Ceylon tea is as fascinating as its wonderful aroma and taste. Even during the ancient times, the glory of this prosperous island was known to the outside world, thus it was attacked by many invaders from time to time. However, when looking into history, the Portuguese, Dutch and British invasions can be seen as rather significant. In 1815s the country became a colony under the British crown and the British took over the complete control of the country. During this era, it was necessary for each colony to earn their own administrative and other expenses and as a result, large scale plantations were started within all these colonies. In Sri Lanka, coffee was planted as the first plantation crop and many British planters were encouraged to enter into Coffee plantation industry within the island. The fate of coffee was however not fruitful in Sri Lanka, as the entire coffee cultivation of the country was devastated by a fungal disease called “Hemileia vastatrix” or coffee rust disease. After this, many other alternative plantation crops such as cocoa and cinchona have experimented within the country, but many of these attempts gained very little success.
The emergence of tea cultivation started with all these incidents, and British governors started trials of tea plantations in different areas of the country. In 1867, a planter named James Taylor took the initiative in commercial cultivation of tea within Sri Lanka in a land area of 19 acres in Loolekandura, Kandy. This effort was a turning point in the plantation economy of Sri Lanka, as even a century later; the country recognizes this industry as one of the major contributors to the agriculture-based economy. In appreciation of James Taylor's pioneering role in the Sri Lankan tea industry, he is remembered as the "Father of Ceylon tea" and his historical tea estate still carries a small amount of remaining from his Bungalow. Many of the items that were found in James Taylors Bungalow and the tea processing factory are now being moved to "Ceylon tea Museum" Kandy.
Benefits of tea and tea-drinking habit are discussed all over the world today, and it is a proven fact that tea is a beneficial beverage for your health. Sri Lanka is predominantly a Black tea producing country and in this section, we are going to focus on some detailed aspects of the Benefits of Black tea to the human body.
The typical function of any beverage is hydration and quenching someone's thrust. Similarly, each sip of tea that you consume, will keep hydrating your body, as an average cup of tea contains 99% of water apart from dissolved tea compounds. However, the special benefit that you get with tea consumption is that a cup of tea does not contain excessive amounts of calories, caffeine or other minerals like sodium as in other artificial beverages.
An antioxidant is a compound that is capable of preventing or limiting the damages caused by excessive free radicals inside the body. The human body generates its own natural antioxidants but the antioxidants that you receive from the diet also play an important role in a healthy lifestyle. Today, many studies have demonstrated the anti-oxidant properties of Black tea, especially the antioxidant activity of the tea polyphenols. Apart from neutralizing harmful free radicals, it has been found that these compounds can help the body cell for regeneration and repair as well. Therefore this property alone, tells us that tea is not just an ordinary beverage, it is also a healthy beverage alternative for daily diet.
Black tea contains about 3-4g of caffeine (g/100g dry weight) and this has a very specific role inside the body. Caffeine is a known stimulant and it could refresh the body conditions via stimulation of the central nervous system. However, in tea, there is an additional compound called "Theanine" and the combination of theanine and caffeine could impart a mild stimulation on the human body. This combination also helps relaxation and improvement of alertness. Further, unlike other caffeine beverages, it has been known that caffeine from tea absorbs slowly in the body and this promotes a longer period of alertness.
It has been studies that the polyphenols in the tea help in many ways to reduce the risk of heart diseases. For example, it has been found that tea can help to prevent Coronary Heart Diseases (CHD). The Coronary Heart Diseases are the most common type of heart diseases found, and usually caused by complete or partial blockage of the arteries supplying blood to the heart. So what can tea do to help to protect our heart? The tea compounds are capable of reducing blood cholesterol levels and also to reduce blood clotting inside arteries. These facts ultimately help the risk of CHD while ensuring the proper functioning of the heart.
Diabetes happens when people have problems with metabolizing of sugar, due to many reasons. There are two types of diabetes around us and in type 2 diabetes; the body becomes less sensitive to "insulin" which is the enzyme that helps to metabolize sugar within our body. Studies show that the tea flavonol named “myricetin” has abilities to help with the type - 2 diabetes, as they can influence on the activity of "Insulin". However, when it comes to tea and diabetes, it is important to note that tea should be taken plain without added sugar or milk if it is expected to help with blood sugar.
The process of rapid cell growth and multiplication is the process known as cancer initiation. There are many agents or carcinogens that initiate this process and cause cancers. Scientific studies have been conducted to in this area have shown that tea polyphenols could react and neutralize these chemical carcinogens and thereby to reduce the risk of cancer.
The secret of someone's' long life is heavily associated with their lifestyle and diet. The polyphenols and other chemical compounds that are found in a cup of tea, and their impact on the proper functioning of many bodily functions, it can be concluded that tea drinking helps to improve your lifespan. When going into details it has been identified that increased anti-oxidants activity could increase the lifespan of mammals in many ways and mainly it helps reducing cell aging and improve regeneration.
The brewing of Ceylon tea is one of the very important steps as this is how the true flavor of the tea is brought out. In any brewing, there are few facts to pay attention if we need to get the desired outcome. These factors are water, water temperature, brewing time and other utensils like pots or cups.
Describing the flavor of Ceylon black tea in few words is kind of a challenging task for any tea connoisseurs and here is why! As we described in the earlier chapters, the island of Sri Lanka is a magical creation of Mother Nature. The country has very dynamic and vibrant climatic conditions, and the topographies so the flavors of teas that are grown in each different areas of the country are different from one another. These tea growing areas have been grouped into seven distinct categories and called as “agro-ecological regions’ of tea. These “agro-ecological regions’ are named as Ruhuna, Sabaragamuwa, Kandy, Dimbula, Nuwara Eliya, Uva, and Udapussellawa.
The tea industry of Sri Lanka today holds the title of 4th largest tea exporter in the world after China, Kenya, and India. Annual tea production of the country adds nearly up to 300 million kg (2018) and the majority of the production is Black tea. In 2018, the country has produced around 91% of Orthodox black tea, 7.8% of CTC Black tea and the balance produced as Green tea 1.2%. Majority of the country's tea production is exported to other countries and the top tea exporters of Sri Lanka can be recognized as, Iraq, Turkey, Russia, Iran, Libya, United Arab Emirates, Azerbaijan, Syria, etc.
The uniqueness of Sri Lankan tea largely depends on the orthodox style of tea manufacturing as the other black tea producing countries are more into CTC style of tea production. Orthodox black teas are produced simply by using orthodox rollers and this style of production can preserve the flavor and aroma of the black tea into a greater extent. In the Orthodox tea production, greater attention is given to shaping and twisting the tea leaves, thus it results in a diverse range of tea grades with different sizes and shapes. Tea grades such as OPA, OP1, OP, BOP are few examples for Orthodox teas.
CTC is a way of producing teas and the letters stand for "cut-tear and curl". In Sri Lanka, this style is not much used, but in other black tea producing countries like Kenya, this style is heavily used. Here the leaves are heavily macerated to produce relatively small leaf teas with a strong flavor. CTC teas are heavily used for the production of tea bags.
The green tea industry in Sri Lanka is still at the growing stage, as many of the tea producers have still not moved into this category. Due to the high demand that is there for black tea, the only few green tea gardens are operated within the country. Ceylon green teas have slightly weedy, astringent and bitter flavor notes; hence the demand from international market is less compared to Black tea.
Hope this complete guide will give you a clear reading on your cup of Ceylon tea. It is always good to know about the teas that you sip.