Sri Lanka is one of the world's largest exporters of tea, hence when venturing into the cool climes of the island one will be surrounded by acres of tea. Tea produced in Sri Lanka has become popularized as the world renowned brew that is known as ‘Ceylon Tea'. A visit to the tea factory and plantations entails a crash course in plucking tea and a tour of the factory to view the process tea goes through. The two leaves and a bud which is handpicked by women clad in sarees with baskets strapped onto their backs evolve through a long process before it is ready for serving. Once the leaves are plucked they first go through a withering process, the moisture of the leaves are partly reduced to a stage where they can be rolled without breaking it into particles. The leaves are then rolled with the aid of a rolling machine this process activates the enzymes in the leaves that bring out the distinctive taste of Tea. Thereafter the rolled out tea goes through the process of fermentation, where the leaves are laid out allowing it to react with Oxygen, which results with black tea. The process of fermentation is stopped by drying the tea leaves.
Tea – a drink consumed in households and workplaces throughout the world – was first discovered purely by accident. While many myths and legends surround the discovery of tea, one story stands out most accurately. According to the tale the history of tea originates in the year 2737 B.C. during the reign of the Chinese emperor Chen Nung. The Emperor was popularly known as the “Divine Healer” as he was responsible for identifying the medical properties of many herbs. One day while the Emperor was on a journey he stopped for a drink of water. While he boiled the water to purify it, a few leaves from a nearby tea tree fell into the imperial pot. The scent and flavour emanating from the tea leaves was to the Emperor’s liking – and with that first cup the humble tea leaf made its royal debut. For many centuries however, the only tea that was consumed was dried green tea leaves, which originated in China. Black tea was yet to be discovered. Until 850 AD tea was also prepared by simply boiling the tea leaves in water, not through today’s process of brewing. Traditionally there were three methods through which tea was prepared:
Boiling Tea – Classical Period,
Whisking Tea – Romantic Period,
Brewing Tea –Naturalistic Period
The Classical Period: This period in the history of tea lasted till about 850 AD. The tea leaves were first steamed and then ground with a pestle and mortar, then mixed with rice, ginger, salt, orange peel, spice, milk and onions and eventually boiled. The resulting concoction was a syrupy mixture of leaves. This form of tea bares a resemblance to the tea served with yak butter in Tibet today. During this period tea was also simply boiled and served.
The Romantic Period: During the Romantic period, tea was “whisked” – a method made popular in the time of the Song dynasty (960-1279AD). The dried unfermented leaves were ground into a fine powder, after which it was added to boiling water and whisked into a thick sauce, with the aid of a bamboo brush. This form of tea preparation is carried out with much flair even today at the world renowned Japanese Tea Ceremonies.
The Naturalistic Period: Tea “whisking” was replaced by “brewing” during the Chinese “Ming Dynasty” – the method of preparation that is practiced throughout the world today. Black tea also surpassed green tea in popularity during the Naturalistic Period.
Tea has many varieties. Black Tea and Green Tea. Although it is commonly assumed that black and green tea are produced from two different trees, they in fact come from the same tree. The difference in the two types of teas arises from the process of fermentation. During the fermentation process tea turns red and then eventually black when dried. Green tea in contrast is not fermented, but is heat-treated to retain its colour. No records are available on how and why the process of fermentation was started. It is however possible that the process was developed to store and preserve tea more easily and retain it for longer periods of time. While both green and black tea have their own distinctive tastes, black tea grew in popularity throughout the world. The number of ways in which black tea can be consumed are varied and has therefore resulted in it being preferred over green tea.
Pekoe – a whole leaf black tea produced by a medium plucking of the second leaf on the tea bush. The word Pekoe is derived from Chinese, meaning ‘white hair’ and was originally applied to early tea plucking, due to the white down on the backs of the young tea leaf.
Broken Orange Pekoe – (BOP) black tea comprising smaller leaves and broken segments with an abundance of tips. Can be applied to both Orthodox and CTC teas.
Broken Pekoe – (BP) full boiled black tea comprising broken segments of somewhat coarse leaf, without tip. Can be applied to both Orthodox and CTC teas.
Fannings – small grainy particles of leaf (1-1.5mm) sifted out of better grade teas. Fannings will produce a liquor that is often as good as that of a whole leaf grade – it is a grade which applies to both orthodox and CTC teas. In the orthodox teas, Fannings will include broken orange pekoe Fannings (BOPF) and golden orange pekoe Fannings (GOPF), which describe the amount of tips in a grade.
Flowery Orange Pekoe – can be either whole leaf or broken leaf orthodox black tea with a lot of tip, which gives its finer quality.
Flowery Pekoe– a whole leaf black tea with the leaf rolled lengthwise.
Orange Pekoe – black tea comprising leaf 8 to 15 millimeters long which has fewer tips than an FOP.
Dust – the smallest particle of leaf size in both orthodox and CTC teas, which is normally used for tea bags, as they infuse quickly with the full flavour and strength coming through the tea bag material.
Story of Sri Lankan tea: The story of Ceylon tea begins over two hundred years ago, when the country that is now known as Sri Lanka, was still a British colony. Coffee was the dominant crop on the island, and intrepid British men journeyed across oceans to begin a new life on coffee plantations. However, coffee was not destined to succeed in Ceylon. Towards the close of the 1860’s the coffee plantations were struck by Hemileia Vostatrix, coffee rust, better known as coffee leaf disease or ‘coffee blight’. As the coffee crop died, planters switched to the production and cultivation of tea. Experimental planting of tea had already begun in 1839 in the botanical gardens of Peradeniya, close to the royal city of Kandy. These plants had arrived from Assam and Calcutta through the East India Company. Commercial cultivation of tea commenced in Ceylon in 1867. Reflecting on the bold initiative, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stated that, “…the tea fields of Ceylon are as true a monument to courage as is the lion at Waterloo”. James Taylor, a Scotsman, played a significant role in the development of Ceylon Tea. A perfectionist by nature, Taylor experimented with tea cultivation and leaf manipulation in order to obtain the best possible flavour from the tea leaves. Taylor’s methods were emulated by other planters and soon, Ceylon Tea was being favorably received by buyers in London, proving that tea could be a profitable plantation crop. In 1872 the first official Ceylon tea was shipped to England and contained two packages of 23lbs. The first recorded shipment, however, was dispatched to England in 1877 aboard the vessel The Duke of Argyll. By the 1880s almost all the coffee plantations in Ceylon had been converted to tea. British planters looked to their counterparts at the East India Company and the Assam Company in India for guidance on crop cultivation. Coffee stores were rapidly converted to tea factories to meet the demand for tea. As tea production in Ceylon progressed, new factories were constructed and an element of mechanization was introduced. Machinery for factories was brought in from England. Marshals of Gainsborough – Lancashire, Tangyes Machine Company of Birmingham, and Davidsons of Belfast supplied machines that are in use even today. As Ceylon tea gained in popularity throughout the world, a need arose to mediate and monitor the sale of tea. An auction system was established and on 30 July 1883 the first public sale of tea was conducted. The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce undertook responsibility for the auctions, and by 1894 the Ceylon Tea Traders Association was formed. Today almost all tea produced in Sri Lanka is conducted by these two organizations.
Tea factory : The tea factories found on most tea estates play a vital role in the final value of the manufactured tea. Regardless of how carefully the leaf has been grown and plucked, if the processes at the factory are not carried out properly the end result will be of a poor quality. A tea factory is a multi-storied building, almost always sited on the tea estates to ensure that the time between plucking and processing tea is kept to a minimum. Once the tea leaves arrive at the factory they are spread across the upper floors of the building in troughs – a process known as withering. Withering removes all excess moisture in the leaf to make it pliable. Once the tea leaves have been withered, they are rolled, twisted and broken up. This acts as a catalyst for the enzymes in the leaves to react; this chemical reaction occurs when the leaf comes in contact with air, which is necessary for the production of black tea. The leaves are rolled on circular tables, which are fitted with brass or wooden battens. The leaf is fed in from above through an open cylinder and as this cylinder rotates the amount of pressure applied to the leaf against the table surface is adjusted. The leaf particles are collected after rolling and are spread out on a table where they start to ferment when exposed to warm air. The fermentation time is dictated by the prevailing weather pattern. This brings about the changes necessary to make the tea liquor palatable. As this chemical process of oxidization takes place the colour of the leaf changes from a green to a bright coppery colour.
The fermented leaf is then put into a firing chamber where the hot air prevents any further chemical reaction from taking place. The temperature at which the tea has been fired will determine the keeping qualities of the tea. Once the firing process is completed the leaves emerge hard and black, and are ready for grading.
Grading determines the value of the final product. The tea particles are separated into different shapes and sizes by sifting them through a progressively finer series of meshes. The various grades of tea denote only the size and appearance of the leaf and bear no relation to quality. The graded teas are finally weighed and packed into tea.
"If you ever plan to visit Sri Lanka (and I think you should) this is your guide!!! Martha Iordanidou - Thesoloneki - Greece " Martha Iordanidou
"We had a great time on last 10 days in on our honeymoon in beautiful Sri Lanka. Thank you very much for the stories, the explanations, driving, tips, care and always with a smile. Big thanks for you Cyril. We had an amazing honeymoon in this beautiful island! and you are the best guide and friend that we could have here!!! We will sure tell our friends and family about the trip and you!!! We will stay in touch and may be one day meet you again. Oded & Carol Israel 10 Oct 2014" Naim & Coral Fisher from Israel
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"We had a exellent and memorable trip. That all credit to you Cyril.Indepth knowledge about the place, roads, Culture and history. Very matuared and patient. We were in very safe hands on all the time. Thanks a lot, mainly it's memorable expeirience for all of us. We always recomond CYRIL TOURS to our friends and relatives in Dubai and in India." Awdhesh Kumar and gruop
"Cyril was an excellent guide and gave us a very good insight into the history and cultures of Sri Lanka. He was always polite, helpful and prompt. His driving was always calm and controlled - unlike some of the other vehicles we saw!!! We would recommend him to others traveling to Sri Lanka. WH - UK - January 2011" Wilson Harland
"CyrilWe are now back at home after the lovely time with you in Sri Lanka, andvisiting Hong Kong.Thank you for driving for us while we were in Sri Lanka.In particular, we appreciated - your smooth, calm and efficient driving through varied traffic conditions - your calmness when things did not go quite as expected - your being available at all times of day - I'm remembering our late arrival at the airport, and our late departure - your information about all sorts of ..." Cliff Hooker and Jean from Australia
"Thank you Cyril for caring us and giving a very enjoyable tour to all of our family while we are on holiday in Sri Lanka. Definitely we will recommend you to our friends and relatives. Hitendra Molleti and family" Hitendra Molleti
"We had an excellent and memorable trip and all credits to Cyril. In-depth knowledge about the places, roads and history and culture. From the airport assistance - Food, accommodation provided and the vehicle was excellent. Very matured and patient, We being on safe hands. Thanks for making it a memorable experience for all of us. " Aubry De Souza and group from Dubai
" Dear Cyril, We are fortunate to have you as a friend here in Sri Lanka. You are extremly Knowledgeable and more than ever - having an attitude of helpful nature and the willingness to solve issues on hand whilst on our tour around Sri Lanka. As I have said to you we will reccommend you to all our friends who wish to tour in Sri Lanka. My family Karen, Kalvin and Andre also liked your company and wish you and your family well. God bless you all and we will keep in touch, for sur..." Alwyn Santhumayor & family
"We would like to say thank you very much Mr. Cyril for the excellent 7 night tour of Sri Lanka you provided us. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Sri Lanka and the itinerary you arranged. The four hotels (Earls Regency, Amaya Lake, Heritance Kandalama and the Colombo Hilton) were excellent and thoroughly deserved their 5 stars. Your driving skills was excellent. Also very friendly, calm, helpful, and courteous and always prompts. Sri Lanka is a lovely country and the people were very friendly. ..." Suresh and Prashanth