Sri Lanka’s Dimbula region always inspires me. This beautiful region is found in the western part of the island. While the Dimbula region is home to some excellent tea producing sub districts such as the Golden Valley, upper Kotmale, Talawakelle, lower Dick Oya and Maskeliya/Upcot.
Today the subdistrict of Dick Oya is part of Dimbula. Until the 1970’s, Dick Oya was considered a region in itself – one that I respect as separate today, because the teas from Dick Oya tend to be lighter than those from the rest of Dimbula. The best time to enjoy a Dimbula tea is during the western quality season that occurs during the later part of February to early March.
What distinguishes a “quality season”?
A season takes places when certain climatic factors are present. In the case of the western quality season, the climatic factors begin with a drought that takes place in January.
The perfect tea growing conditions are bright sunny days with showers at the end followed by cool crisp nights. In January the showers slowly die off. The tea bush begins its first phase when it goes into survival mode by producing concentrated oils. This sustained lack of rain, coupled with wind that blows from the south west Indian ocean, blowing over the southern part of the island and down the mountains into the valleys – is the second essential element of the quality season. The wind ensures that any surface moisture that is found on the leaf is evaporated away, and the concentration of oil is increased.
To capture the magic that is taking place in the leaf requires an expert tea manufacturer, who adjusts the manufacture to factor in the volatile oils. With a change in manufacture, teas that are produced during this season will exhibit clean, bright, and brisk characters with a wonderful coppery red colour. In district like the Golden Valley of Bogawanthalawa, a golden hue will be present in the cup.
Teas from Maskeliya that produce Broken Orange Pekoe grades of tea will create wonderful breakfast teas. Whereas Pekoe grades from Nanu Oya will take on a much lighter character, similar to that of a Nuwareliya.
The western quality season is a moment in the year where we can all sit back and appreciate the wonders that Mother Nature creates.
Dananjaya Silva writes on behalf of PMD Teas.
I have a genuine concern about global warming. I wonder how it will affect the subtle requirements of tea production in these regions and around the world. I have noticed a significant difference in the amount of rain, for example, in the Pacific Northwest. I worry about the impact these changes, which will only increase in intensity, will affect tea.
The concern you have is certainly a grave and true one! Over the past few years we have seen erratic weather. Most recently we experienced a month of continuous rain in December. Last we year saw a huge landslide that left 400 people homeless on Koslanda estate.
Weather has played a huge part as of late to the quality seasons. Certain years like last year the season came much later in April when the traditional monsoons would have started. This pushed the monsoon back but this also meant that the monsoon season was much longer and made it very dangerous as it bought the risk of landslides.
Speaking to superintendents who are on plantations they tell me that in all of their planting careers ( some who have been planting for 35 years plus) they have never seen weather like this.