Ceylon Tea—but Green

ceylon_crop-web
Ceylon OP Nuwara Eliya (black tea)

When we think simply “tea,” Ceylon may well be what we are envisioning:

  • it’s perfect for classic iced tea
  • it’s great blended with lemonade
  • it’s excellent hot
  • it handles lemon or honey or milk or sugar admirably
  • it’s the perfect “base tea,” with a brisk and full flavor

And you’re probably visualizing black tea, even teabag Ceylon.

But there’s also Green Ceylon that begs to be tried!

And yes, it’s a green tea and it’s a Ceylon.

Its verdant and long, slightly needle-like leaves yield an infusion that is warm yellow, with a hint of orange.
leaves-web

The aroma is slightly starchy with a touch of citrus. Neither too grassy nor too smoky, its bright vegetal liquor is light and refreshing.

brewing-web
Brewing: 1 heaping tsp per 8 oz water, boiled & cooled to 194°F, and steeped for 2 min.

wet-leaves-webThe Green Ceylon shown here (available at TeaHaus) hails from a small tea plantation in Sri Lanka’s Uva District, which is located inland, near the island’s southern end.brew-web

Sri Lanka: From Coffee to Tea

Although most tea in Sri Lanka is now the assamica variety, some gardens still use the Chinese variety, the original China seedlings having been planted in Sri Lanka by Maurice Worms in 1842.

At that time, this lovely island—deemed the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean”—was a coffee-producing country whose estates were largely owned by the British. They called the country Ceylon, a transliteration of the Dutch name Ceilao (the Dutch preceded the Brits, growing cinnamon on the island).

coffee-beans,-grinder-webWhile the coffee industry spurred development in the country, profits were sometimes elusive.

With a coffee glut in the early 1860s, the Planters Association of Ceylon did some research. Although tea was already being grown on the island, it wasn’t being produced commercially, so the Association sent a coffee planter to Assam, India, where the tea industry was thriving.

The advice? Grow upland, high-quality tea using seeds and plants from Assam.

James Taylor (not the singer-songwriter) Enters In

camellia-sinensisSo in 1867, James Taylor, himself a transplant (from Scotland), put in 20 acres of tea from seed acquired from the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens.

The plants readily took to their environment, and Taylor—with help from an Assam tea planter and much experimentation—learned how to turn the leaves into a high-quality finished product. He was soon producing tea comparable to that of Assam.

This move from coffee to tea production was pretty bold because in 1877, 94% of Ceylon’s cultivated land was still planted in coffee—but it was also an incredibly prescient decision. In the early 1880s, coffee rust obliterated that industry.

The Stars Align

close-up-2-webSo . . . with coffee plants dead, tea plants flourishing, and European tea consumption on the rise, growers quickly turned to tea.

However, those who had suffered a total loss in coffee could ill afford the more costly tea plants. Filling that need, an enterprising coffee grower began growing tea plants within the country and then sold seed to Ceylon planters.

By 1895, tea covered 305,000 acres!

Another Reason Why It Worked

The country was well suited for tea. Tea could be harvested year-round and the mountainous terrain resulted in a range of teas with unique qualities:

  1. low-grown tea, strong and usually drunk with milk;
  2. mid-grown tea, boasting a rich flavor; and
  3. high-grown tea, the premium teas.

And of course there was Thomas Lipton, who aggressively and very effectively advertised Ceylon tea. 

Moving Forward

After a long span of colonialism, Ceylon became independent in 1948 and changed its name to Sri Lanka in 1972 when it became a republic. Its tea, however, is still known as Ceylon, and many consider James Taylor the father of Ceylon tea.

This tiny country has had a tumultuous history, in part due to its complicated tea industry, and only recently has found some measure of peace. . . . perhaps ironically, a cup of tea now exemplifies calmness and peace. . . .

tea-w-birds-webSources: (1) “Ceylon Green Tea,” Sri Lanka Tea Board, http://www.pureceylontea.com/index.php/features/fine-ceylon-tea/ceylon-green-tea; (2) D. Colin-Thome, ed., History of Ceylon Tea, http://www.historyofceylontea.com; (3) Lonely Planet, http://www.lonelyplanet.com/sri-lanka/history.

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