Tea is a cornerstone of Sri Lanka, its people and its culture. Tea is not just something close to the heart of Sri Lankan people, but has also become one of the most important pillars of the Sri Lankan economy. The first non-commercial tea plants of the two varieties, camelia sinensis and assamica were grown at the Botanical gardens at Peradeniya in Kandy in 1824. Commercial cultivation in Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, by which name tea grown in Sri Lanka is still famously known for, commenced in 1867. The British commenced growing tea on an organized scale after setting up the first tea plantation at Loolecondera estate. In Sri Lanka tea is grown mainly in the central mountain areas as well as the lower southern regions. These tea growing areas are clearly defined into regions each known for producing tea of a particular and unique character. Several districts, different in terrain, soil composition, rainfall patterns and climatic conditions contribute to the uniqueness in leaf and cup quality! Here is a look at the different tea growing areas in Sri Lanka!
Tea from Kandy
Historically, the city of Kandy marked the beginning of the Ceylon tea industry. Kandy lies in the midst of a plateau. But though the capital nestles in a relatively low-lying valley, the estates themselves are located in the surrounding hills. Ceylon Tea from the Kandy region is often described as “mid-grown”, with the altitude of cultivation ranging between 650m and 1,300m (2,000-4,000ft). Most of the Kandy district estates lie on the western slopes of the nearby hills, so their taste is largely influenced by the ‘western quality season’, meaning that the best Ceylon Tea is produced during the first quarter of the year when cool, dry weather sets in across the region. The range of flavour and profile depends on the altitude and whether the plantation is sheltered from monsoon winds, but most have a notably bold taste. Kandy Teas are predominantly strong and intensely full-bodied. They are a favourite for many tea connoisseurs!
Tea from Dimbula
One of the earliest areas to be planted after tea took over from coffee in the 1870’s, Dimbulla is one of the most famous names associated with Ceylon tea. Dimbula is known for some of the finest Ceylon teas, and is located in a picturesque plateau. The name of this district is derived from the valley that lies in the heart of the region. Dimbula was also one of the first districts to experiment with tea growing. Even today, a majority of the people from Dimbula are plantation workers. The plantations, located at 3,500 to 5,500 feet (1,100 meters to 1,700 meters) above sea level, cover the western slopes of the district. The best Ceylon Tea from Dimbula is produced during the first quarter of the year when cool, dry weather sets in across the region. The range of flavour and profile depends on the altitude and whether the plantation is sheltered from monsoon winds, but most have a notably bold taste.
Tea from Nuwara Eliya
Also known as Little England, Nuwara Eliya is arguably the most beautiful region in Sri Lanka. As Nuwara Eliya is unique, so is its tea, the fragrance of cypress trees and the menthol of wild mint and eucalyptus float through the air and contribute to the tea's characteristic flavour. Recognized by tea connoisseurs, it has been said that Nuwara Eliya, at 6,250 feet (1,900 meters) above sea level for Ceylon tea is what champagne is to French wine. Brewed light it makes for a very smooth cup of tea that can also be iced for a refreshing difference. These Ceylon Teas boast a delicate, floral fragrance and a light, brisk flavour. Sought after grades include whole-leaf Orange Pekoe (OP) and Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP).
Tea from Uva
Uva lies towards the east of the hill country, where the weather alternates between a period of heavy rain and high temperatures throughout the year. The strong wind upsets the plants’ normal photosynthesis, and the contrast between cool nights and warm days causes a chemical change in the tea bushes. The two factors together give the tea liquors a unique ‘wintergreen’ character. These teas are usually grown at an elevation of 900m and 1,500m (3,000-5,000ft).
Tea from Ruhuna
The climate in the low-growing region of Ruhuna is hot and humid with plentiful rainfall throughout the year, and the bushes confidently produce a regular crop of new leaf buds. The majority of the teas grown here on the lower slopes are processed as Orange Pekoes (OP) and Flowery Orange Pekoes (FOP). Their beautiful leaves are wiry, neatly-twisted, jet-black, and often mingled with silver or golden buds. They brew to give rich red liquors that are full-bodied, powerful, juicy and strong, with hints of honey and chocolate.
Sri Lanka is blessed with many different regions, different climatic conditions and different soils where tea can be grown with unique, versatile tastes that are synonymous with each region. With the utmost care of tea leaves from the tea gardens to the manufacturing process, Ceylon tea remains the best quality tea in the world. Basilur has paid tribute to this wonderful feature about Sri Lankan tea through its Leaf of Ceylon collection, where we have curated a collection of the finest tea from each of the tea growing regions of Sri Lanka!