The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Sri Lanka's Ceylon Black Teas
Known as "The Cup That Cheers"
With a near perfect climate and soil conditions the tropical island of Sri Lanka is
able to harvest tea nearly year round.  This tiny country is roughly the size of
the state of Indiana, yet is the third largest tea producer, and depending on
where tea giant,
China, falls each year, is either number one or two in exports.
Sri Lanka produces mainly ortho-
dox black tea, but in recent years
has begun to add some green and white orthodox
specialty teas to its menu.  In fact, their Ceylon
Silver tip white tea is in direct competion with
China's Silver Needle or Bai Hao Yin Zhen tradi-
tional budset
white tea.

Their unique geography and climate provide for
three types of tea to be produced, all based on al-
titude rather than seasons -
low-grown teas are
grown in elevations below 2,000 feet, mid-grown
or
medium-grown teas at elevations of 2,000 to
4,000 feet, and
high-grown teas at between 4,000
to 6,000 feet.

The
types of tea are further
divided by six main growing
regions:  Ratnapura, a low to mid-growing area, Galle, a low-growing re-
gion, Kandy, a mid-growing region, Dimbula and Uva, both high-growing,
and Nuwara Elyia one of the highest and oldest tea growing regions that
produces the Ceylon teas Sri Lanka is famous for, with brisk, flavorful teas
often called the "worlds best fruity black tea."

The Central Highlands Mountain range splits the island in half with peaks as
high as 6,000 feet.  Most tea growing regions have one peak season, such
as India's
Darjeeling First Flush black teas or China's Qing Ming or "before the rains," spring
green teas, but Sri Lanka is blessed with two peak seasons.

While monsoons batter the eastern side of
the island from January to May, the western
side peaks, and from July to October it re-
verses, with monsoons soaking the western
side while the eastern side peaks.

This means a near continual harvest year
round and coupled with the tropical warmth
the tea grows so fast, some gardens have
to pluck fresh leaf nearly every week.  Some
garden's yield can be as much as 30 times
that of tea giants China and
Japan.

To process this much tea Sri Lanka's factor-
ies are well organized and efficient.  Their
marketing is also professional and well or-
ganized with tea auctions held in Colombo ever
                                              week or two.

                                               The annual monsoons
                                               can drop as much as
                                               45 to 70 inches of
                                               rain, providing ample moisture for the tea plants.  The differen-
                                               ces in altitude, along with varying amounts of sun, rain, and
                                               wind, as well as differing soil composition contribute to the teas
                                               flavor and individual characteristics.  Thus teas from all three
                                               regions are vastly different.

                                               Low grown teas under 2,000 feet for the most part are unremark
                                               able.  Although Ceylon teas are all brisk, with a fruity flavor and
                                               clean finish that they are famous for, the low-grown teas lack the
                                               body and fullness of flavor the mid and high-grown teas have.

                                                Much of the low-grown tea is used as
tea bag filler or the base
                                                for
flavored teas or as blends for English style teas.

                                               The finest Ceylon teas are grown in the mid and high-grown re-
                                               gions in the cool misty areas high in the mountains.  The cooler
                                               air slows the growth and maturing of the leaf, concentrating the
                                               flavors.  These Ceylon teas are the ones Sri Lanka is famous for,
                                               with fuller body and bold, brisk, fruity flavors.

With the constant plucking, the bushes are forced into dormancy every four years, by getting a
heavy pruning.  Each tea plant is cut back to within a few inches above ground.  But within five
months plucking resumes as the plants regrow and begin to leaf out once again.  To maintain
their height the bushes are then plucked to table height.  The average lifespan of a tea bush is
between 35 and 50 years, with the longer lifespan in the higher
elevations.

Over a thousand cuttings a year are used from mother tea bushes
to propagate new plants.  The Sri Lanka Tea Research Institute
works with new clonal varieties of tea plants, testing for increased
yield per plant, hardiness, and resistance to pests and droughts.
Because of the favorable climate, new tea plants usually flush with
the first usable leaves by the third growing season.

Because Sri Lanka produces such a high volume of tea, it has damaged their prestige as premier
growers of fine teas, and the average price of Ceylon tea has drastically fallen.
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                                To make money, producers and growers have had to be more innovative.  Some of the best         
                                 producers have set themselves apart by announcing their own recipes.  Each garden is process-
                                ing their tea a little differently, creating their own styles and flavor profiles.  This has resulted in
                                an amazing diversity of exquisite black Ceylon teas now available to choose from.

                                Some tea makers are even offering new varieties and styles, with green and white teas added
                                to the list, along with their amazing black teas.  One enterprising entrepreneur from low-grown
                                Ratnapura district devised a new method of keeping tips white, for which they're now famous,
                                turning a dark, unremarkable tea into a very special, remarkable tea with shiny silver tips,
                                adding a touch of honeyed sweetness.

                                It is this kind of innovative thinking and dedication to their craft, that will keep Sri Lanka's artisan
tea producers and their teas at the forefront for many years to come.  
Enjoy.
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