On our tour through Sri Lanka of course one of the most important characteristics are the tea fields and the tea production on the island.
We drive from Kandy to the Central Hills of Sri Lanka, to Nuwara Eliya through the green tea terraces watching the waterfalls and plantations around.
The drive is very steep, the road is very narrow, the car and truck drivers are more than crazy – in each curve that we take we all think that we will have an accident as the distance between the cars passing by each other is less than minimal and none of them is reducing their speed.
Holding our breath we climb up the hills for more than 2 hours.
Acres of so many shades of jade green wide terraces, crowned with bright green leaves are ready to be plucked by the tea plucking ladies with their tea baskets at their back.
Breathtaking views and a special memory – this is where our daily tea that we enjoy while starting into the day either at home or in the office is coming from.
Fields over fields of the famous Ceylon Tea before we reach out to the highest point of Nuwara Eliya, about 2000 m high, cool, a little rainy and foggy but a perfect climate to grow tea.
The scenery is beautiful.
Actually tea is culture and tea has a history – in the ancient times tea was first used for medical purposes and was the second fluid after water that was used by mankind – later on as an exhilarating beverage.
Throughout the ages tea became one of the most beloved beverages around the globe.
In Sri Lanka the first tea plants were imported by the British from China in the beginning of the 19th century.
The British found out that the eco system in the central highlands of Sri Lanka was perfect to grow tea and for this reason they started to clean the virgin forests to open up the region for tea plantations. This was also the natural living space for all the exotic animals eg. the elephants. So the larger the tea plantations became the more the living area for the animals was reduced.
In the later years there were further plants brought to Sri Lanka from Assam, Calcutta and also Kenya.
While driving through the mountains we recognize the elder tea plucking ladies who are glimmering in their colored clothes through the huge green fields, asking you for some little money when you approach them, having their sacks at their back, deep wrinkles on their faces .
Collecting the Tea
Plucking the tea leaves very carefully and skilled by hand is key for the final success of the tea quality – the two leaves and a bud, that is where the flavor and the aroma of the tea is coming from. In Sri Lanka the tea is gathered by women by hand only and no machines are used as this is very important for the quality level of the product. Each tea plucker can gather about 15-20 kilos of tea leaves every day.
In Sri Lanka there is Black Tea, Green Tea, Silver Tea and White Tea produced where the Black Ceylon Tea is the most common and the most famous one worldwide.
Today about 4% of the country’s land is covered by tea plantations and the main tea growing areas are Nuwera Eliya, Kandy, Central Province, Bandarawela, Haputale, Uva Province, Galle, Matara, Southern Province, Ratnapura, Kegalle and Sabaragamuwa Province.
The so called Ceylon Tea became world famous and Sri Lanka is nowadays the worlds 4th largest tea producer after China, India, Kenya and has a history of more than 150 years!
About half a million people are employed in this industry in Sri Lanka by today.
I don’t know whether it is true but there are worldwide 2 different words used for tea – it is “Tschai” , “Ca” , “Cay” as it is used in the Chinese , Russian , Turkish and some other languages and” Tea “ ,”the” , “Tee” as it is used eg. in Britain , France , Germany etc.
I read that the difference is coming from the way on how the product is transported – when the tea is coming via the silk roads from China the product is named “Tschai” , when it comes from China with the sea lines with the ships to Europe it is called “Tea”.
History of Ceylon Tea
Tea has a rich and fascinating history. For hundreds of years people consumed tea for its medicinal qualities. More and more tea plats were discovered and tea drinking became more popular. All this paved the way to tea becoming one of the most sort after beverages around the globe.
Grades of Ceylon Tea
Ceylon tea is manufactured in a variety of leaf sizes during production and then these leafs are sorted into various styles by sifting. The leaves are graded according to their sizes and this grading system is to identify the size and appearance of the product ranging from large leafy teas such as Orange Pekoe to semi-leafy grades such as Flowery Pekoe and the standard grades such as BOP, BOP Fanning, and Dust grades. It does not indicate the quality, flavor or aroma. Below are the most common grades used in Sri Lanka.
The Whole Leaf Grades:
OP or Orange Pekoe- The highest grade given to manufactured tea. Long, wiry and thin leafs. When brewed its flavor has a delicate fragrance and tastes wonderfully delicious and the liquors are light and pale in color.
Pekoe- The leaves of this grade differ from that of OP, short leaves which are not as much wiry as OP, but it is a bit more twisted than OP. When brewed its flavor has a hint of bitterness along with a sweet finish and it is rich in color.
OPA or Orange Pekoe A- Long and bold leaves which varies from tightly wound to almost open with a mild flavor and the liquor is light in color.
OP1 or Orange Pekoe 1- Delicate, long and wiry leaves. It contains a light liquor and a flavor of refined taste.
Broken Leaf Grades
BOP Or Broken Orange Pekoe- This grade of tea is the most sought after. It is a well made, neat leaf of a medium size with and abundance of stalk and fiber. The flavor of the tea is rich and fresh and the liquor is bright in color.
BOPF or Broken Orange Pekoe Fanning- This grade consists of a leaf that is rather smaller than BOP, it is also one of the most common grades found in Sri Lanka. The leaf is neat and fairly clear and has a richness to its flavor along with a liquor that is bright in color.
BOP 1 or Broken Orange Pekoe 1- The leaf of this grade is wiry and medium in length, it has a mild and malty flavor and is golden in color. This is one of the best tasting teas in the broken range.
FBOP or Flower Broken Orange Pekoe- The leaf is more coarse and broken and includes a fair amount of tips, they are shorter and smaller in size than BOP1, its bright in color and has a soft flavor to it.
FBOPF or Flower Broken Orange Pekoe Fanning- Considered to be one of the best teas in the Fanning range, this grade consists of leaves that are smaller and similar in size to that of BOPF, it also contains a reasonable amount of tips and is bright in color. Its flavor is rich and fresh.
FBOPF1 or Flower Broken Orange Pekoe Fanning 1- This grade consists of leaves that are larger in size compared to BOP, it contains a low amount of tips and once brewed it has a sweet flavor to it.
PF1 or Pekoe Fanning 1- The leaf is the smaller size of the CTC (Crush, Tear and Curl) manufacturing process. The flavor is rather strong and is ideal for Tea Bags.
Dust 1- These are rather smaller than BOPF, they are fine granular particles that contains optimum strength and body, it is ideal for commercial brewing.
Silver Tips- This grade contains the finest buds that turn rather velvety once dried, they are a long tippy leaf and is silver in color and hardly contains any black leaf. Once brewed it has a very delicate flavor and is ideal for medicinal purposes.
These are the most well known grades of Ceylon Tea. Every grade has distinctive qualities to it. The “Flowery” variants of the main grades such as FBOPF or FBOP are well known to fetch higher prices in the international markets and are the most expensive to produce.
Of course we are also visiting one of the tea factories in the Central Hills and buying our tea for home as well as some teabags as presents to family and friends.
It smells so nicely pure nature – I think we will definitely enjoy this tea for a very long time whenever we are sitting at home at our long table, having our tea pot, mugs and cookies around, having the old tea plucking ladies and the green shade of the fields in mind – this is how it is growing up, manufactured and then coming to our tables as consumers.
Actually we enjoyed the trip in the mountains a lot and having such a nice close touch with the tea plantations around.