The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Sri Lanka's Mid-Grown Teas
A Small Country With A Big Tea Attitude
About fifty-five miles off the southeastern tip of India lies the small pear-shaped
tropical island of Sri Lanka.  After seizing control of the island in 1815, the British
brought the first tea plants to what was then called Ceylon, but was renamed
Sri Lanka after gaining independence in 1948.
But it wasn't until the 1870's
that tea became the domin-
ant crop, following the destruction of the is-
land's entire coffee crop, blighted by coffee-
rust disease (Hemileia vastatrix).

The great tea plantations, some still in exist-
ence today, were built by determined hard
working and entrepreneurial Scotsmen, and
many were named after their homeland,
such as St. Michaels, St. Andrews, Dunedin,
and Kenilworth.

Still in existence today, Kenilworth is one of
Sri Lanka's oldest tea estates.  Located
halfway up the Central Highlands at
approximately 2,000 feet it's considered a
medium or mid-grown area.  Mid-grown teas account for about 16% of Sri Lanka's total annual
tea production.

                                                Established by a hard-working Scot by the name of James Taylor
                                                in 1867, Kenilworth is located near Kandy, not far from
                                                Polonnaruwa, the ancient capital of Ceylon.  With some basic
                                                knowledge about tea he'd acquired while working in
India,
                                                Taylor started experimenting with black tea, making small
                                                batches on the veranda of his bungalow.  With success in these
                                                early test batches, the first tea factories were then built.

From these meager beginnings, Ceylon's tea industry quickly grew.  The first Ceylon tea auctions
were held in Colombo, the capital of Ceylon in 1883, by a company called Mssrs. Sommerville and
Co..  

Today, nearly 6,000 tons of tea pass through
those same auctions every week, making
Colombo the world's largest tea auction
center.

During a ten year period from 1990 to 2000,
exports of Ceylon tea increased from
211,604 tons to 283,451 tons ten years
later, an increase of 34% growth.

Mid-grown or medium grown teas such as
Kenilworth, located in the district of Kandy,
          are medium bodied, brisk, and asser-
          tive, yet mellow, with a rich flavor and
          color.  They are truly in the middle
          ground as at 2,000 feet it's not as hot and humid as the
low-grown areas, but still
          warmer and more moist than the
high-grown teas and region.

                                                           Mid-grown teas from this region peak in the spring when
                                                           the monsoons are on the other half of the island dumping
                                                           copious amounts of rain (between 45"-70" per year).  
                                                           With the tropical climate and monsoon rains, the tea
                                                           bushes grow year round.  This means there is no first or
                                                           second flush as is the norm, but rather the tea bushes
                                                           flush with new growth all year.

          Following harvesting of Kenilworth mid-grown tea the processing continues with the
          leaves getting a medium wither.  This differs from India's
Assam teas which receive a
          light withering and their
Darjeeling teas which receive a hard wither.

          To bruise the leaves and start the oxidation process an Orthodox rolling machine is used
          but at a faster pace then usual and for a lengthier period - two hours, longer than other
          Ceylon teas are usually given.

          Next the leaves are loaded onto trays which circulate around
          the room on a moving belt for another two hours-another
          unusual step when
making Ceylon black teas.  Finally, when
          the leaves are oxidized 100%, they are oven dried at a hott-
          er temperature than for high-grown teas.

          The end result after this intense rolling, oxidation, and firing is a medium-bodied mellow
          tea with baked flavors, that is one of Sri Lanka's most famous teas from one of its oldest
          and most famous estates.

                                                            A few miles from the district of Kandy, in Hantane, is the
                                                            Ceylon Tea Museum which opened in January 2002.  Not
                                                            far away is the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, both a
                                                            must see if you are interested in learning more about
                                                            tea, and you are visiting in that area.

                                                           Ceylon teas are often called the "World's Best Fruity Black
          Teas."  Even though it's a small island, Sri Lanka has a diverse climate and geography,
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thus the low-grown, mid-grown, and high-grown designations.  No matter which area the tea is grown in, the
weather and geography lend each individual tea its unique characteristic flavors and aromas.

Low-grown teas are of good quality and add a brisk richness to
blends, mid-grown teas have a greater richness, are
clear, brisk, fruity teas with good color in the cup, and high-grown teas are the best of the lot.  They are what made
Ceylon teas famous, with powerful intense flavors and beautiful deep rose gold colored infusions.  So, no matter
which of the three you choose to drink, you really can't go wrong.  
Enjoy.  
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