Sri Lanka’s Low-Grown Teas Big Tasting Teas From a Small Island

Often called the “World’s Best Fruity Black Tea,” Ceylon teas are produced on
the small island of Sri Lanka.  Roughly the size of the state of Indiana, Sri Lanka
is only 271 miles long and 137 miles wide yet is the world’s third largest tea pro-
ducer and a top tea exporter.
It’s able to claim these hefty
titles due to its ideal climate
and soil conditions making it perfect for
growing abundant tea.
Despite its small size,

Sri Lanka has a varied
climate and geography, and is divided into
three tea growing areas based on altitude;
low-grown teas at elevations of 2,000 feet
and below, medium or 
mid-grown teas at
elevations of 2,000 to 4,000 feet and 
grown teas, grown at elevations of 4,000 to
6,500 feet.
We’re going to explore the region of low-
grown teas, grown around the island’s peri-
phery, found mostly in the southern region.

Low-grown teas make up the largest amount of Sri Lanka’s total annual tea production, approx-
imately 55%.  These teas are the fastest growing with an abundance of large leaves, but for the
most part lack distinctive flavor.
Sri Lanka’s

low-grown region lies at only 300 feet above sea lev-
el.  With the tropical heat and humidity and fertile soil, the tea in
this region grows abundantly, with large, well proportioned
leaves, but at the cost of flavor as they are dark and unremark-
able, lacking the briskness of mid or high grown teas.
Most of these teas are underpriced and sold as bulk teas for English style and

tea bag blends.
Of course, there’s always one exception to the rule.
This exception is found in the low-grown
Ratnapura district.  Knowing they had to be
innovative to make money, an entrepren-
eurial producer from the low-grown Ratna-
pura region tea gardens figured out how to
keep the tips white during oxidation, creat-
ing a lovely silver-tipped black tea they are
now famous for.

Normally tips turn golden during black tea
processing, but the  Ratnapura tea makers
figured out how to keep them a light silvery
color, producing an unusual

black tea with
beautiful silver tips.
The manufacturing process for these
teas begins with a very brief wither-
ing, before rolling the leaves for approximately 15 minutes, using minimal pressure.
Rather than rolling the leaf on a table between pressurized disks, instead they are
poured into a vertical cylinder with a sieve on the end.

While the cylinder slowly spins, the leaves gently tumble
inside, rubbing against one another, rupturing the inter-
nal cell walls as they soften and begin the oxidation pro-
cess.  The tips remain undamaged, not oxidizing with the
rest of the leaves, keeping them a shiny silver color.

While tumbling inside the cylinder, the smallest, finest,
and most delicate leaves fall through the sieve on the end.  This constitutes about half a
percent, while the other 95.5% of leaf gets transferred to a rolling machine, on its way
to becoming bulk tea for

blends and tea bags.The small, delicate leaves are left to oxidize for approximately
two hours, much longer than most other Ceylon teas.  Next
they receive a blast of moist air, similar to that from a humidifier.

This step is similar to that given China’s

Keemun black teas that
have sweet, subtle flavors of cocoa.  The blast of cool, moist air
encourages the leaves to form their characteristic chocolaty
cocoa flavors.
Also like China’s Keemuns, these teas are fired at temperatures higher than for most
other Ceylon teas, which likely creates the Maillard reaction, further drawing out the co-
coa notes.  The “Maillard reaction” is created by using a higher heat, creating compounds
called glucosides inside the leaves.  The glucose derived compounds give the tea leaves
a range of flavors, from toasty to nutty, to subtle sweetness.

After firing the leaves are spread out over a fine mesh strainer and hand sorted, gently
working the smallest particles through the strainers.  The smaller golden tips fall through
the sieve, while the larger, silver tips remain with the larger pieces of tea.

This is only one example of the innovative ideas and tech-
niques being worked on and created each day as tea mak-
ers and producers try to keep pace with the ever changing
market, and demands from tea drinkers worldwide.

When buying Sri Lanka teas you can look for several different identifiers, including the
100% Ceylon tea marked on Ceylon tea blends, the name of the specific region, such as
Ratnapura, using our above silver tips black tea as an example, or there may be a specific estate listed, such as
Bogawantalawa estate and the garden the tea came from.  Or lastly, look for the logo of the Sri Lanka Tea Board,
which is the stamp of a stylized lion holding a sword.