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The cup that cheers from Sri Lanka: 150 years of Ceylon tea

Rolling hills, misty forests and countless tea gardens – these are the highlands of Sri Lanka where they’ve been growing top quality Ceylon tea for 150 years. Ceylon was the name given to the island at the southern tip of India by the invading British at the beginning of the 19th century. Even after independence, the Sri Lankans have kept the name Ceylon for their tea.

A Scot introduced tea to Ceylon

It wasn’t the locals, but a Scot, James Taylor, who brought the tea plant Camellia sinensis to the island. Drawing on expertise from tea cultivators in India, Taylor founded the tea garden "Loolecondera" in 1867. At that time, local farmers showed little interest in tea, preferring to concentrate on the lucrative coffee business. This changed abruptly in the decade between 1870 and 1880 when a fungal infection swept through the island wiping out huge coffee plantations. The British built a railway to bring the tea from the centre of the island through the mountains to the coast; it still runs today. Another Scot, Thomas Lipton, invested heavily in plantations and began the large-scale cultivation of Ceylon tea. Liptons is still a well-known tea brand.

The higher it grows, the more intense the flavour

The tea-growing areas extend over several altitudes. The tea is harvested by hand. This tiring job that is mostly done by women. They pick only the youngest and most tender leaves – two leaves and the bud. The higher the growing area, the slower the tea leaves grow. This results in a particularly fine and intense aroma with a golden colour in the cup – as is the case with tea from Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula, Uva and Uda Pussellawa. Tea from lower-lying plantations around Kandy, Ruhuna and Sabaragamuwa is darker and stronger.

Locals drink the leftovers

Meanwhile, Ceylon tea is one of the island's most important assets. Barely as big as Bavaria, Sri Lanka is one of the largest tea exporters in the world. While the high-quality teas are exported, the locals drink a simple black tea called "dust". It is the crushed remains of the leaves left over during production.

 

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.bzfe.de