The Ultimate Guide to Ceylon Tea
True tea aficionados know that tea is so much more than just a liquid in a cup. The journey of the tea leaf from seed to cup is one that makes each cup of tea that much more enjoyable. Looking to learn more about Ceylon tea? You’ve come to the right place. We’ll show you everything you need to know about tea production in Sri Lanka with this guide to their distinctive Ceylon teas.
What Is Ceylon Tea?
Ceylon tea is a type of tea cultivated in Sri Lanka using the leaves of the tea plant known as Camellia sinensis. Under British rule, the country was known as Ceylon and the British focus on tea production led to these types of tea becoming one of the most recognized in the world. Since Ceylon tea refers to teas grown in Sri Lanka, there is a wide variety of tea types including white tea, green tea, and black tea with the latter being the most popular.
Ceylon black tea is often used — along with Darjeeling tea and Assam tea — as the base tea in blends such as Earl Grey or English Breakfast Tea. The tea offers different flavor and aroma characteristics depending on whether it is grown at high elevations or at sea level. High-elevation black teas are lighter in color, similar in appearance to sunlit honey. Lower-elevation teas tend to be a darker red-orange hue and have bolder tasting notes.
Ceylon green tea is cultivated in the Uva province of Sri Lanka. This type of green tea tends to have stronger malty notes and a bolder flavor compared to Chinese and Japanese green teas. While those teas have grassy notes, Sri Lankan green tea has higher nutty notes and a fuller body. This green tea is quite strong and typically consumed in Northern Africa and the Middle East rather than in western countries.
In addition to black tea and green tea, Ceylon produces silver tip white teas. These white teas are considered the highest quality and are thus more expensive than other Ceylon teas. Ceylon white tea is mainly produced in the mountainous regions of Nuwara Eliya and offers notes of pine and mild sweetness.
Cultivation of Ceylon Tea
Ceylon teas are produced in various regions of the country from the Central Province to the Sabaragamuwa Province. Here is a basic rundown of the teas produced in the different regions of Sri Lanka.
Many travelers will be familiar with this tea-growing region as it’s recently risen to fame for its stunning train ride through tea plantations at high elevations. Most tea in this province ins produced in the Dimbula district of Sri Lanka including Nuwara Eliya and Kandy. Kandy is located at a lower elevation than Nuwara Eliya, but it is still much higher than sea level. Teas grown here are considered mid-elevation teas and feature a copper color paired with a full body and robust flavors.
In Nuwara Eliya, teas are grown at elevations higher than 6,000 feet. The tea plants here grow much more slowly than at sea level and produce Ceylon teas with smaller leaves. Teas grown in this region tend to be lighter in color and offer more delicate tasting notes.
The southern region of the country is much lower than the Central Province. Teas bushes grown here are grown closer to sea level and thus produce meltier and darker tea blends. The leaves on these bushes are also longer and thinner than those grown at higher elevations.
This province produces teas that blend the characteristics of high and low-grown teas, largely because the province has a variety of different growing climates. Teas here are bolder than those in the Central Province but less robust than the ones produced in the south.
Tea growers in this province produce a large amount of both black and green Ceylon teas. These teas are grown at mid-elevations and are largely produced in tourist hubs such as Haputale and Badulla. Teas made here are darker in color than other Sri Lanka teas.
Packaging and Grades of Ceylon Tea
Sri Lanka strictly regulates the packaging of pure Ceylon teas. Teas produced in Sri Lanka feature a “lion logo” that indicates the cultivation of the tea in Sri Lanka and the high-quality flavor and aroma associated with these teas. To use the lion logo, tea plantations must pass inspections coordinated by the Sri Lankan Tea Board.
Tea leaves are also graded, not based on flavor and aroma, but on the size and style of the tea leaf. There are many different grades of Ceylon tea, which we will outline briefly here.
Orange pekoe is the highest grade when it comes to Ceylon tea. These tea leaves feature a long, wiry appearance and offer delicate flavors. The tea leaves are typically thin, not thick.
Pekoe Ceylon teas tend to be slightly bitter compared to Orange Pekoe and they are also shorter and feature a twisted leaf. Within this grade, there are subsections known as Orange Pekoe A and Orange Pekoe 1. Type A leaves are on the longer side and tend to be more tightly wrapped while type 1 leaves are wirier.
Broken Orange Pekoe
This category of tea is made with broken leaves rather than whole leaves. Broken Orange Pekoe leaves are fleshier and open and considered the highest grade of the broken tea categories. The leaves are often more fibrous than orange pekoe and thus more astringent. Within the broken leaf category, there are also fannings, which are smaller tea leaves that are typically found in tea bags.
Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe
This type of Ceylon tea is made using coarse and older leaves that are broken. The tea may also contain tips of leaves and offers a milder flavor component. Flower grades are popular and offer distinctive flavors that can’t be found in other Ceylon teas.
This is one of the lower quality grades of Ceylon tea. It’s typically used for large commercial brewing of tea and is made from ground up tea leaves and fine particles.
Like white teas, silver tip Ceylon tea is made using the youngest buds of the tea plant. The result is a velvety body and smooth flavor with mild hints of sweetness.
Health Benefits of Ceylon Tea
Ceylon tea is rich in antioxidants such as polyphenols, catechins, and flavonoids. These compounds give the tea its delicious flavor but may also help to support overall immune health by preventing damage caused by oxidative stress. Free radicals caused by pollution and smoking can damage healthy cells and have been linked to premature aging and serious disease (1). Studies have shown antioxidants such as those found in tea — including theaflavins and thearubigins — may help to prevent this damage by eliminating free radicals (2).
Drinking Ceylon tea may help to lower the risk of heart disease thanks to anti-inflammatory properties. This tea contains compounds that have been shown to decrease inflammation and improve circulation (3). This may help to prevent serious heart disease by lowering blood pressure and reducing the risk of heart attack or blood clots. Most of these benefits have been shown with long-term, regular tea consumption.
Drinking Ceylon tea may help to boost energy thanks to its caffeine content. A cup of Ceylon tea contains about half the amount of caffeine found in a cup of coffee. However, this tea also contains l-theanine, an amino acid that helps to slow the absorption of caffeine, resulting in a longer-lasting energy boost (4). Since the caffeine doesn’t’ hit your system all at once, you’ll also avoid the jitters and crashes associated with a cup of coffee.
Tea drinking may help you reach your weight loss goals when combined with regular exercise and a healthy diet. A cup of tea is a great alternative to sugar-packed beverages that also pack on the pounds and calories. Best of all, it’s just as healthy as water, but tea tastes so much better. Pour yourself a cup of tea and warm up after a frigid morning run or cool off with a cup of refreshing iced tea after a sweltering boot camp workout in the summer.
Discover the Beauty of Ceylon Tea
Brew a teapot of loose leaf tea from Sri Lanka and discover the distinct flavors and aromas that have made this country one of the most popular tea producers in the world. The tea offers few side effects and delivers a wide range of flavor from delicate and sweet to robust and nutty. It’s the best tea to curl up in a chair while reading about the history of tea or planning your next tea plantation adventure. Bring the delights of Sri Lanka into your home with a cup of Ceylon tea.