For generations, Sri Lankan tea has been known worldwide as Ceylon tea. A sizable portion of foreign exchange earnings comes from tea cultivation in Sri Lanka. Exports account for the majority of Sri Lanka’s tea production. The nation’s name is well-known among housewives and restaurant owners worldwide because they discovered that its presence on a tin or package consistently ensured the quality of the tea within.
Origin of tea cultivation in Sri Lanka
The story of Ceylon tea dates back two hundred years to the British era. In Sri Lanka, the first tea plant was introduced in 1839. It arrived from China. They planted these first tea plants in Peradeniya Botanical Garden, Nuwara Eliya Rajagedara Garden, and Haggala Botanical Garden.
James Taylor introduced the Ceylon tea name to the world
Who introduced tea cultivation to Sri Lanka? James Taylor, a Scotsman, was the first to cultivate tea for commercial purposes. James Taylor came to Sri Lanka in 1852 and settled in the Lulkandura estate in Kandy. After going to India in 1866 and studying the basic conditions of tea cultivation, in 1867, Taylor started a 19-acre tea plantation in Lulkandura Estate.
Growing tea industry
Beginning in the early 1870s, Sri Lanka began to grow tea (Camellia Sinensis) as its main crop. Taylor’s study led to the establishment of what can be called Sri Lanka’s first tea factory in the lobby of his villa in Lulkandura Estate, Kandy, in 1872. Here, Taylor filtered tea leaves by hand on the tables, and he stirred the tea leaves in earthen pots with charcoal. Taylor used wire drying trays for drying the tea leaves. Taylor later produced simple machinery for rolling tea leaves and there was no shortage of labor input at the time. In 1875, Taylor shipped the first consignment of Ceylon tea to the London auction.
How do planters cultivate tea in Sri Lanka?
Growing tea is relatively easy. Camellia sinensis is a hardy shrub that can withstand a vast range of more or less tropical climates, elevations, and soil conditions as long as it receives adequate rain and temperatures do not vary greatly year-round. The cultivation process consists of the following steps.
Planters clear a sloping slope of trees and brush for planting with tea, a practice that is less frequent today than it was during the pioneer era. They take out the heavy, frequently valuable timber and burn off the rest of the cutting, the ash that helps enrich the land.
Planters survey the land, “lined” to indicate the future locations of each bush, drained, and “holed” to accommodate the plants before they begin planting. An ideal clean runoff with less erosion is essential for proper drainage.
The process of planting
Initial tea production involved vegetative growth, or “cuttings,” either on-site or in a nursery. The 1960s saw the introduction of contour planting, which closely follows the contour of the hillside, replacing the conventional form of planting with shrubs organized in geometric groupings. Planters place the trees amidst the tea to give some shade and further prevent soil erosion.
Weeding the plants
Early farmers lost tons of topsoil with each raindrop as they weeded their fields to a clean state. Today, planters remove only weeds that threaten the tea; the others are left in the soil to help “glue” the soil. Although topsoil loss is still a problem, there is much debate, research, and experimentation surrounding it at the national tea research institute of Sri Lanka and others.
Fertilize tea plants
Planters fertilize conventionally grown teas to meet the strict chemical content requirements set forth by the Tea Board.
Pruning tea plants
Like vines, tea bushes respond well to occasional mutilation. Planters first prune the plant before it is ready to be picked, then prune it again every few years. This causes the bush to grow horizontally rather than vertically.
Picking the tea
Tea picking, or “plucking,” is a year-round activity. But different places produce their best teas at different periods of the year due to the accompanying weather changes. The two most delicate leaves and the “bud” that emerges at the top of each stem are the only parts of the plant that the pluckers, primarily women, touch. Coarser picking results in poorer tea production.
What happens to tea leaves after cultivation and picking up?
Oxidation of tea leaves
Planters rolled the tea leaves on circular tables fitted with brass or wooden handles and placed them in an open cylinder above. After the rolling, they spread the tea leaves on a table to begin oxidation with the heat and humidity spread by hand. The final product’s quality depends on the utmost care and scrutiny directed to temperature and humidity control and oxidation duration.
After the oxidation is complete, the color of the green tea leaves turns to a shiny copper color. Once oxidized, leaves are placed in a heated chamber to alter the natural characteristics of the enzymes to prevent side chemical reactions. This heating process also affects the flavor of the tea leaves. Again temperature control is a significant factor in determining the final quality and ultimately results in tougher and darker tea leaves.
Drying the tea
Sorting tea leaves (according to size in Sri Lanka) is done by sifting them with the help of a net and separating them into different categories according to shape and size. Planters don’t add artificial preservatives at any point in the production process, and they reject all teas that do not conform to standard quality, regardless of size and value.
Shipping High-Quality tea
Finally, the weighted tea is packed into tea sacks and paper bags and subjected to careful inspection. After that, it is transported to the local market and tea brokerage companies. At the export stage, the Sri Lanka Tea Board samples every shipment and distributes them worldwide by ship.
Tea products in Sri Lanka
Ceylon black tea
Sri Lanka black tea is one of the teas that are unique to Sri Lanka. It has a pleasant aroma reminiscent of citrus. People use it with or without mixing, and it grows in various plantations that vary in altitude and flavor.
Ceylon green tea
For the most part, Assamese tea warehouses manufacture Ceylon green tea. These are grown in the Idalgashinna area of Uva province. Are you thinking about where you can purchase Ceylon green teas? You can grab Ceylon green teas as whole leaves and they are produced at the Assamese Seed Store. These green teas have a sharp, astringent taste, maltiness, and nutritional properties.
Ceylon white tea
Ceylon white tea, also known as ‘silver tips,’ is expensive, and the price per kilogram is significantly higher than other types of tea. They were first cultivated in the Nuwara Eliya area between 2,200-2,500 meters (7,218-8,202 feet) near Mount Sripada. It has a delicate liquid with a delicious pine and honey essence and a golden and copper undertone. Pure white tea is also grown in the Handunugoda estate near Galle in the southern province of Sri Lanka.
Until the 1980s, tea production was Sri Lanka’s primary source of foreign cash. Since then, however, foreign employment, the garment industry, and the tourism sector have all developed as sources of foreign exchange.
A tea cultivating land which expands from meters to thousands of acres
Where is tea grown in Sri Lanka? In Sri Lanka, there are three primary tea-growing areas. These include,
- Low grown teas – cultivated between sea level and 600 meters.
- Mid grown teas – are those planted between 600 meters and 1,200 meters.
- High grown teas – which are those grown beyond 1,200 meters.
The climatic circumstances unique to each elevation impact the flavor, aroma, and taste of teas from that elevation. The areas include in these ranges in Sri Lanka are as follows,
- The high-grown teas from Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula, Uva, and Uda Pussallawa
- The mid-grown teas are from Kandy
- The low-grown teas come from Ruhuna and Sambaragamuwa.
Where is the best tea grown in Sri Lanka?
Nuwara Eliya in the center of Sri Lanka is without a doubt one of the top Ceylon tea estates. Due to the local weather, Nuwara Eliya has expanded significantly over the previous 100 years, providing a living for the residents.
What is the largest tea growing region in Sri Lanka?
The largest district in Sri Lanka is Sabaragamuwa, and the teas there are low-grown since the plantations there range in altitude from sea level to 610m.
Tea cultivation in Sri Lanka is a significant source of foreign exchange for Sri Lanka. Growing tea is complex. As we mentioned in the article, several factors are essential for the tea tree to grow abundantly. The topography of Sri Lanka is very favorable for tea cultivation. Every permutation and combination of factors, such as plant stock quality, soil, weather, altitude, and exposure, clearly impacts the quality of the finished product.
In tea cultivation, laborers perform a significant amount of work. More than a million people from the population of Sri Lanka earn their livelihood from this tea plantation. Due to this, many job opportunities have arisen in connection with tea cultivation.