150 years of tea! This year (2017) Ceylon celebrates a century and a half of growing world-class tea, and the planet sipped along with jubilee in a Global Tea Party on July 6th at 5:00 pm in every time zone. Nothing quite like having the world champion Cricket player from Sri Lanka, Kumar Sangakkara, invite everyone to tea!
This was my simple celebration at 5:00 pm on that day:
Last month, the World Tea Expo also celebrated Sri Lanka’s Director of Promotion for the Sri Lanka Tea Board and former manager of several esteemed Sri Lankan tea gardens, Ms. Premala Srikantha, with a plaque commemorating 150 years and praising their sustainability practices across the island.
Sri Lanka is the largest exporter of black orthodox tea. The beautiful island paradise employs 1.5 million people in the cultivation and processing of hand-plucked tea. There are seven established tea-growing regions in Sri Lanka: NUWARA ELIYA, UDA PUSSELLAWA, DIMBULA, UVA, KANDY, SABARAGAMUWA & RUHUNA.
“The tea-growing regions of Sri Lanka are clustered mostly among the mountains of the island’s central massif and its southern foothills. Once thickly forested and largely inaccessible to humans, the central mountains were known to the ancient Sinhalese as Mayarata, the Country of Illusions. It was said to be haunted by demons and spirits. This fearsome reputation, together with more tangible threats posed by wild beasts, venomous snakes, landslides, rock falls and the ever-present danger of simply losing one’s way in the forest, kept most people away from the high hills. Settlement was almost nonexistent except in the valleys and around the city of Kandy. Only foresters, hermits, and fugitives had any reason to enter the Mayarata.
Thus, it was after the annexation of the Kandyan kingdom in 1815, the British found themselves in possession of vast tracts of virgin mountain forest. Imperial enterprise soon found a way of putting the acquisition to good use. By 1840, there were already about two hundred coffee-estates dotted about the hills; then came a boom in coffee on the London market, fuelling a land-rush. Down came the high forests, acre after acre, to be replaced by endless, regimented rows of coffee-bushes. At the peak of the coffee enterprise in 1878, no less than 113,000 hectares (278,000 acres) were under cultivation.
The blight that was to destroy the enterprise had by then, already made its appearance, and by the end of the 1880s, Ceylon coffee was finished. Looking around for a commercial crop to replace it, the planters settled on tea. They soon discovered that the tea-bush was far better suited to the climate and terrain than coffee ever was; indeed, the hill country of Ceylon – known today as Sri Lanka – proved to be capable of producing the finest tea in the world. It has been doing so ever since. […]
“Just like the Appellations d’origines côntrolées of France, the use of the names of the tea-growing regions of Sri Lanka is strictly restricted and controlled. Only teas that conform to a registered, legal definition of origin and manufacture can bear the name of a given district. First, the tea must have been grown entirely within a particular ‘agro-climatic region’ (the technical term for ‘district’). This usually implies a particular altitude range as well; for example, tea from Uva district will have been grown at an altitude between 1000 and 1600m (3000 -5000 ft) above sea level, while Nuwara Eliya tea will have been cultivated at a higher altitude range, averaging 2,000m (6000 ft).
Next, the tea has to have been ‘manufactured’ within the district. Fresh tea-leaf does not travel well; it has to be processed more or less in situ, and every large estate has its own factory dedicated to this operation. While the regional definition permits some latitude regarding the actual processes of manufacture, most Ceylon tea is still made according to traditional methods, which are deemed by experts to produce an end-product of the highest quality.”
This preamble of Sri Lanka was not the how I planned for this post to be. However, since I found this information of great value, I thought I’d start with it, and in my next post introduce to you something spectacular from one of the regions in Sri Lanka. Stay tuned because this was just the first sip of Ceylon.
Thanks for sharing this fascinating history. 150 years is certainly worthy of celebration. The people of Sri Lanka have much to feel proud about. Hopefully global warming will not adversely affect this important region of the tea growing community.
I am so taken with the tea people I have met from Sri Lanka that having a global tea party and celebrating with them all, was a total delight! I grew up drinking Ceylon Orange Pekoe tea, so the taste always brings back wonderful memories of Canada. It is my sincerest desire to visit their little island paradise. Yes, they experienced some serious weather conditions earlier this year that lead to some tragedies, but they are recovering nicely. The island of Sri Lanka will endure and continue to prosper!
Ceylon/Sri Lankan tea is one of my favorites for its’ beautiful clarity and clean taste. Excellent article, Dharlene.
Nice article. Thanks for this one.