Ceylon Tea grown in Ruhuna
Ruhuna was a latecomer to tea. It was only around 1900 that the first estates were opened up among the foothills of the central mountain massif, at a convenient distance from Galle and Matara with their road and rail connexion to the capital. At a time when most of the plantation enterprise was British- owned and -run, Ruhuna became an early bastion of the Ceylonese planting fraternity – a group that included not only ‘tea men’ but also those planting in rubber and other crops.
During the early 1970s, political and economic changes in the Middle East resulted in a greatly increased market for the strong, full-flavoured black teas that are a Ruhuna speciality. This resulted in a boom, the effects of which have lasted more or less until the present day. Ruhuna is now, along with Sabaragamuwa, one of the key tea-producing districts of Sri Lanka, producing its own characterful varieties. Between them, the two provinces account for around 60% of the total production of the island.
Ruhuna teas are defined as ‘low-grown’. The tea-estates of the region all lie at altitudes between sea level and 600m (2,000ft). Although the main tea-growing areas are relatively near the coast, the predominant weather patterns prevent them from receiving the full force of the southwest monsoon winds and the rain they bring. Before the coming of tea, this zone of moderate climate, watered by several small rivers, was devoted to the cultivation of spices.
The soil of Ruhuna, combined with the low elevation of the estates, causes the tea-bush to grow rapidly, producing a long, beautiful leaf that turns intensely black on withering and is particularly suited to ‘rolling’. Ruhuna factories produce a wide variety of leaf styles and sizes, from prized ‘tips’ through whole- and semi-whole-leaf teas to ‘fannings’ and CTC.