Probably producing the best black tea in the world, when Ceylon changed its name to Sri Lanka in the early 1970s it chose to retain the Ceylon Tea branding for which it had become famous.
A country blessed with fertile soil and its weather governed by regular monsoon rains, agricultural produce such as grains, spices, rubber, tea and coconut are produced in abundance.
However when it was colonised by the Portuguese, Dutch and British it was sugar and coffee plantations that were established.
Unfortunately the coffee plantations were destroyed by a blight in the 1860s and they were replaced by fledgling tea plantations, which were planted with cuttings from Assam in India.
In the 1880s, Sir Thomas Lipton was sailing to Australia and his ship docked in Colombo the capital of Sri Lanka. He was told of the plantations and the opportunity to purchase land cheaply for tea cultivation.
He took a train to the up country, fell in love with the beauty of the country and saw a potential business opportunity.
He proceeded to buy plantations which would produce quality tea for his supermarkets in Ireland and the UK.
The rest is history… Liptons Tea was established and he never did get to Australia!
Producing close to 8 per cent of the world’s tea, Sri Lanka exports over 90% of its production to the established tea markets of the world. The highest standards are therefore imposed on its exports.
Most of the tea on the island is grown in the central highlands and the differing characteristics of the tea produced is generally governed by the altitude, terroir and rainfall of the area where it is grown.
High Grown (Dimbula, Uva, Nuwara Eliya) Mid Grown (Kandy, Pusselawa) and Low Grown (Ratnapura) teas all have their distinctive flavours, appearance and aromas.
Ceylon Tea is generally produced by large expertly managed plantations with unionised work forces. Most of the tea is sold through a well established auction system.
Throughout history tea has been accepted as a healthy beverage. It is known to alleviate drowsiness and help and assist concentration – which was certainly an aid to meditating monks in monasteries.
Tea has also been used as a digestive and as a medium to take other herbal medications as well being used in ointments to soothe skin disorders.
At one time tea was said to cure almost every disease, though this might have been the sales pitch of some over zealous tea merchants, some of whom may be still around today!
In a general sense, tea contains polyphenols that act as anti oxidants in the body. These are known to assist in combating age related diseases.
Scientific studies have also revealed that tea may reduce cholesterol and inhibit the development of some cancer cells.
Tea also contains theanine which reduces mental stress and aids relaxation.
Some teas, particularly green tea, white tea and Puerh tea are more beneficial than others.
When we enjoy a good cup of tea we rarely give much thought to the social benefits this wonderful beverage has given to the citizens of the world.
It can be said that the increase in populations in China (and later India), with the subsequent surge of their cultural and economic development, would not have happened without the drinking of tea.
It is not because tea is an aphrodisiac, though that claim has sometimes been made.
Quite simply, the widespread drinking of tea required the boiling of water thus eliminating the many water borne diseases that unboiled water carried!
It also became a relatively cheap and convenient drink of sustenance – for farmers in Asia and manual workers during the Industrial Revolution.
Green Gunpowder tea is one of the most popular green teas available and it is often used as the base to blend flavoured teas such as Moroccan Mint.
Although its name sounds threatening, the reason it is called ‘gunpowder’ is because the rolled leaf style resembles the pellets that used to be put into shotguns!
But be assured, there is nothing dangerous or lethal about the mild, astringent and slightly sweet beverage that the tea leaves produce. Healthy and lower in caffeine than black tea, it is a popular drink sometimes taken with meals.
Green Gunpowder tea produces a straw coloured infusion with a fresh and grassy aroma.
English breakfast, Irish breakfast, Scottish breakfast, Melbourne breakfast, Perth breakfast, the list goes on.
Breakfast teas were originally blended to give a strong brew, usually taken with milk, to complement a hearty English-style breakfast of eggs, bacon, toast, butter and of course kippers and whatever else the gourmand desired!
In the past, the teas were a blend of malty Assam and/or strong Ceylon teas.
Sadly what passes off or is called English breakfast tea today is often a weak imitation of what it used to be. Very often bad or poor quality tea is used and by calling it English breakfast tea, tea suppliers disguise a poor tea blend behind a generic name.
To make matters worse and even more confusing, other breakfast teas such as Scottish, Melbourne and Perth have now hit the market – no doubt to attract unwitting buyers and perhaps to play on their love for their home town or country.
If the consumer wants a good, strong English or Irish breakfast (stronger and more pungent) tea the best advice is to buy a good premium quality tea or teabag. Maybe a taste test of two or three English breakfast teas will prove the variation of quality and flavour.
While tea grew wild in parts of China and India before organised cultivation of the crop took place, it was drunk in the monasteries by monks as an aid to meditation.
Tea was introduced to the British Royal family by a Portuguese Princess ‘Catherine of Braganza’ who married into the royal family in the sixteenth century. Included in her dowry was a chest of tea!
Queen Elizabeth enjoys specially supplied Darjeeling, Earl Grey and Yunnan tea. We know that Prince Charles is an avid tea drinker and favours a variety of white tea.
The world’s most famous monk the Dalai Lama continues the priestly involvement with tea as is shown in the accompanying photograph.
The Beatles were known to enjoy a cuppa and many well known singers drink tea as a part of their pre-show ritual – perhaps it improves their vocal chords!
And what test cricket match would be complete without a cup of tea for the players at the ‘tea interval’?
Tea is usually classified as Black e.g. English Breakfast, Green e.g. Sencha, Oolong e.g. Ti Kwan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) and White e.g. Silver Needles.
However Chinese teas have two additional classes which are Yellow tea e.g. Huo Shan Huang Ya from the Anhui Province and Red tea e.g. some Keemun teas.
While all these teas come from the same plant source, they differ greatly because of the method of processing. Black teas are fermented and go through a drying, withering and rolling process while green and white teas are produced by natural drying or pan firing and sometimes steaming. Oolong teas are semi fermented.
All teas except black teas should be drunk with without milk. Even black teas, particularly the better quality teas should be drunk without milk, as the true flavour, aroma and the unique subtlety of a tea can be best enjoyed without milk. However old habits die hard and milk is often added, either before or after tea is poured.
Milk was first introduced into tea to mask the mustiness of teas after their long sailing voyage from China. It is a particular English habit which has spread to all parts of the Old Empire.
Try drinking your tea without milk. Brew it with less strength if you must and enjoy it’s real flavour.
Tea which is derived from the Chinese word t’e, pronounced tay, only refers to beverages made from the leaves and buds of the Camellia Sinensis or Camellia Assamica plant. Drinks made from herbs or fruit such as peppermint, camomile, mixed herbs, mixed fruit, rosehip and lemongrass are referred to as infusions or tisanes, never as tea.
Tea comes in many forms and from many and varied sources (more about that later as we continue our journey through the ‘tea lands’ of the world).
Our consumption of tea is increasing on a global scale. It is the most consumed drink next to water and over three billion (think of it, over three thousand million) cups of tea are drunk every day!
It is drunk in the drawing rooms of the wealthy, the boardrooms of the powerful and the thatched huts of the impoverished – from the peaks of the majestic Himalayas to the parched deserts of the Sahara, from the grand tea salons of Paris to the humble wayside shops of China.
It is a mystical and often venerated beverage and the source of wonderful historical tales and fables. Over the centuries, wars have been fought over it, people have been exploited by it, fortunes made from it – and yet today because of its variety and health benefits, its popularity continues to grow.