‘Ceylon Tea’, a name that reverberates in every mind of a visitor. Being in Sri Lanka, the one of the world’s top tea producers, one has to witness the cherished journey of the plucked leaf into that perfect brewed cup.
The growth and expansion of tea in the country is nothing short of marvelous for the enterprise of tea had originated from growing coffee. Unbelievable as it sounds, Coffee, a once thriving crop enterprise had preexisted before tea for many years and was among the finest in the world till the ‘Coffee rust disease’ affected the entire industry in Ceylon. Therefore the British planter, James Taylor, in a conquest to challenge China in terms of tea production, brought a tea plant from China and planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, Kandy. Hence, the British era dawned the introduction of tea enterprise into the island.
Kandy, being the birthplace of Ceylon Tea became the administrative capital for tea production during that era when modern transport and roads had barely emerged. Since Kandy was located on a higher elevation in the hills, its climatic conditions proved ideal for the growth of tea, hence the British, during their colonization years, converted many areas to tea plantations, facilitating the production of tea in Sri Lanka. Since then, tea plantations flourished to areas of Nuwara Eliya, Hatton, Ella, Haputale, Hantane and Bandarawela, thus rapidly increasing the production of tea even after Sri Lanka’s independence thereby making the country among the world’s largest exporter of tea by 1965.
Ceylon Tea – a brand that familiarized people all over the globe through its appearance on tins or packets sold to almost every household, had established a name for the country though now called Sri Lanka. Ceylon Tea, known for its black teas and its bold flavour, has a variety of tastes which depends on where it is grown in the country.
Tea, grown in plantations established by the British colonials, is made up of dwarf sized trees that are kept at a height of 1.5 metres by regular cultivation and pruning thus forming a uniform level known as a plucking table which enables thousands of tea pickers to pluck the leaves. These are the young leaves and buds which are covered with a light silvery down hence its name ‘Pekoe’ is derived from the Chinese word Pak-ho which means ‘fine hair’ or ‘down’. These leaves and buds are then sent to the factories for manufacture and process into different types of black tea.
Epic Sri Lanka Holidays can give you the Tea plucking experience tour where you could climb up the rolling green hills of the tea plantation and pluck tea along with the pluckers learning their lives being a tea plucker and sharing their knowledge of tea plucking.
Well known tourist friendly plantations and factories are Giragama Tea Factory in Kandy, Kadugannawa Tea Factory which is few minutes from Kandy, Embilmeegama Tea Factory in Pilimatalawa, Oak Ray Bush Factory which has a scenic viewpoint of the Ramboda Falls in Nuwara Eliya, Blue Field Factory in Ramboda, Nuwara Eliya and Mlesna Tea Castle in Talawakelle, Nuwara Eliya.
The plucked leaves are then sent to the relevant factory of the plantation for manufacture and process.
Walk into a tea factory and indulge an amazing experience of the tea manufacturing process journey of the plucked shiny leaf into the dried leaf that can brew a perfect and warm cup of tea.
The two young tender leaves and bud are plucked totally by hand by thousands of hardworking plantation pluckers. These leaves are gathered together and transported to the relevant factory of each plantation or estate.
The first step of the tea manufacturing process is the drying. The plucked leaves, a total weight of approximately 1200kg are placed in a giant trough, in which at one end there is a large blower which works like a fan blowing room temperature over the leaves for about 18 hours evaporating all the moisture within the leaves. Apart from drying, this process makes the leaves soft and supple and also alters the biochemical properties of the leaves which enhance the tea character for flavour.
The second step involves in transferring the dried leaves into a grinder or rolling machine where it gets crushed. This is considered as the first major step in processing black tea. This process breaks the leaves into pieces which crushes the leaf cells yielding the natural chemical compounds and fluids of the leaves that facilitate the process of fermentation. The rolling or grinding process is continued to break into smaller pieces. The smaller the leaves are the stronger the flavour it will have.
Next is fermentation where the leaves are laid out on open trays in cool, airy and humid rooms so as to promote oxidation. This process is a crucial and important step towards the development of the aroma and flavour of the tea with cautioned control given to the duration of the fermentation. This is regulated by adding water vapour to speed along the fermentation or using a blower fan to blow air onto the leaves. If insufficient fermentation or longer duration of the process occurs, it could weaken the tea.
Following this stage, once appropriate levels of fermentation have been achieved the fermentation process is stopped by drying the leaves in ovens with temperatures of 110 degree Celsius for 20 minutes. The temperature has to be controlled in order to prevent the tea from acquiring a musty taste and aroma. This process dries out the leaves completely and arrests fermentation turning the leaves into black hence the reason the tea is referred to as black tea.
Thereafter the leaves are sorted by separating the stems from the leaves, size of leaf and categorized by the types of tea. This includes leaf grades that culminate into higher prices in comparison to dust grades. The stems are re-used as fertilizer.
The tea leaves are then packed in mass quantities and stored for transportation for distribution and sale.
Useful Information about Tea
There are different grades of tea that are available in sales outlets all over the country.
Leaf teas – All leaf teas are generally light teas. The below grading category is to identify the different types and sizes of leaves with strengths ranging from lightest to strongest.
Orange Pekoe – these are the biggest leaves which brew the lightest tea which is orange in colour and not red.
Pekoe – these are the smaller leaves
Broken Orange Pekoe – these are the smallest leaves that yield stronger teas.
Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings – this is powder tea or more known as tea dust. This gives the strongest tea.
Golden/ silver tips – This is the most expensive tea and is made by using only the buds. However, the above mentioned manufacturing process is not used since the buds are sun dried for 24 – 48 hours depending on the weather conditions. For optimum flavour, the tea has to be soaked for much longer as 7-8 minutes and using 80 degrees celcius water which is not boiling hot.
Epic Sri Lanka Holidays has special experiential tours on offer for you to experience a front show of this manufacturing process in tea factories. These are available at Giragama Tea Factory in Kandy, Kadugannawa Tea Factory in Kandy and Blue Field Tea Factory in Nuwara Eliya.