Sri Lanka: the tale country and producer of the world’s tastiest tea

Ceylon Tea from Sri Lanka

Tea Leaf Harvesting.

A flavor that is familiar and loved by many is Ceylon tea. It is the one that was and is still being supplied today to all the CIS countries, and a total of 145 countries, accounting for 10% of the total exported product. Sri Lanka grows several varieties of black and green tea and over 200,000 hectares of green tea plants are planted in the southern plains and mountainous regions of the island.

Plantations and Producers

Sri Lanka began growing tea in the 1970s after all the coffee plantations were destroyed by vermin. A pioneer in this business was a Scotsman of Scottish origin, James Taylor, and his method of growing and producing tea became a guide for all his followers. At that time in Britain it was fashionable to buy picturesque estates on the island, so many enterprising Englishmen combined business with pleasure. Another bright representative of the tea business was Sir Thomas Lipton, whose brand of tea is still very popular in the world today.

Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka is a classic black tea, which is produced according to the traditional technology. Green tea is also produced on the island, but its share is small, as well as its quality.

Tea Plantations in Sri Lanka.

Such plantations occupy vast areas of the island

The island’s tea plantations are spread over the foothills, highlands, and plains in the south. There are several tea regions which are characterized by certain varieties of tea.

  • Nuwara Eliya is the highland region where the best black tea is grown. It always produces a light infusion, a mild flavor with a slight aroma of spices, cypress, and wild herbs.
  • Uda Pusselawa – here the plantations are distributed between the levels of 1600-1800 m. It produces a product of delicate flavor and moderate strength.
  • Dimbula is a climatic zone located at an altitude of 1,000 to 1,650 meters with high humidity due to monsoon rains. Here the tea is also of moderate strength, but with a distinctly tart taste.
  • Uva – the plantations here are spread between 900 and 1500 meters. It is a medium quality tea that is produced for the purpose of further blending.
  • Kandy which is a strong classical tea which shows its best qualities in combination with milk.
  • Ruhuna, which is a strong, full-bodied tea with a slight sweetness. A product of average quality and a similar price.
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It is very difficult to list all the companies involved in the cultivation and sale of tea located on the island. This is a huge number of factories where tea is produced both in the old traditional way and with the use of the latest technologies.

Sri Lanka National Quality Mark

National Quality Mark

The best producers whose products are highly valued on the world market are Mlesna Tea, Hyson, Basilur, and Gilbert Premium Tea. They are the owners of large plantations, standing at the origins of the tea business. All their products bear a special symbol – a lion with a sword (there is a picture), confirming the high quality of Ceylon product. This mark is given by the Sri Lankan government only to those companies which produce and package tea within the island.

Varieties of Ceylon Tea

Ceylon tea has its own markings that reflect its variety, quality, and other information. If you know the interpretation of each designation, you can easily choose a product according to its taste and quality.

  • Pekoe refers to rolled whole leaves which give the infusion a strong and rich color with a traditional aroma and delicate flavor;
  • Orange Pekoe – indicates that the packet contains a not whole leaf in combination with buds, characterized by a rather delicate aroma and flavor;
  • BP1 Broken Pekoe 1 is a medium pellet product, optimal for quick and intense brewing;
  • PF1 Pekoe Fannings 1, a small granule product, for individual brewing;
  • BOP1 Broken Orange Pekoe 1 – this broken twisted tea, harvested from plain plantations, is mild on flavor indicators;
  • BOPF Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings – this highland tea is strong, fine leafy;
  • FBOPF Ex. Sp Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings Extra Special is a high quality loose leaf tea with tipis that have high flavor characteristics;
  • FBOPF1 Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings 1 is a medium leaf, from plain plantations, giving natural sweetness;
  • Dust is the remainder of the tea production, the so-called crumb;
  • Silver Tips – the best tea, consisting of silver-colored buds, the infusion is refined, fragrant, healing;
  • Gun Powder – this is how green tea is labeled, made just like in China;
  • Sencha – another type of green tea made by Japanese technology.
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Ceylon black tea is considered the best in the world, but green tea belongs to the medium and even low-grade, because it does not have high aromatic and gustatory qualities. It is more of an herbal drink.

Sri Lanka, despite its small size, is one of the undisputed leaders in the tea business.

After all, a large part of the population and the prosperity of the state as a whole is directly dependent on the export of the leaf and its prices on the world market. This is why farmers do not betray traditions and produce classic tea as close as possible to its cultivation in order to preserve its benefits and bring the taste to the end buyer.

Basilur Tea

One of Sri Lanka’s best producers – Basilur


Tatiana: Dilmah has been my favorite tea for 10 years. I trust it and even forgive the grit on the bottom of the packet. For me, it’s an unshakable classic, which is hard to change.

Alla: I fell for the loud advertising and bought Richard in bags. For a high-end product is too low-grade. If you overcook the brew for 2-3 minutes – bitterness and astringency is assured. Back to the native Ahmad.

Margarita: I support what is called a domestic producer, I buy Mayskiy. I like everything from taste and color to price. I like it all.

Ivan: The selection of Ceylon teas in any store is much wider than in China. In Sri Lanka tea is cheap and they produce it on old equipment without any investment. I also sometimes buy such, preferring the most inexpensive ones, like Nuri, Lisma, etc. They are good with milk.


Tea is the symbol and pride of the island. This post is everything I learned about tea while traveling in Sri Lanka. Tea was first brought to the island from China in 1824, then some varieties were brought from India (from Assam) in 1839. The plants were first tested in the Peradeniya Botanical Garden near Kandy. It turned out that the Chinese variety was better adapted to the highlands of Nuwara Eliya, but the Indian variety was well adapted and took root in the plains of Ceylon.

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Ceylon plantations in the mountains.
Tea plantations – impossible to admire

In 1867 a Scottish planter, James Taylor, first started growing tea commercially by planting 80 hectares of the plant near Nuwara Eliya. This is where the fame of the tart drink “Ceylon tea” went around the world. By the way, I don’t like black tea. But Ceylon tea captivated my heart!

Sri Lanka sometimes reminds me of Portugal : Both in terms of species and a little bit of history of production. The famous Portuguese port wine was also produced, distributed and promoted around the world by British people.

Sri Lanka is now the third largest tea producer in the world and the largest exporter, accounting for about 25% of the world demand. Tea is grown in mountainous areas at three levels: up to 600 meters above sea level in the areas of Balangoda, Ratnapura, Kelaniya Valley, and Galle; from 600 to 1200 meters; and above 1200 meters in areas around Nuwara Eliya. Ceylon tea is shipped to 145 countries around the world. The British have the exclusive right to buy it back and set prices at auctions for the tart beverage. Such a condition was put forward to the islanders in exchange for granting their independence.

Tea grows on the slopes
It’s all tea bushes

The business scheme in the tea growing and distributing segment corresponds to the classical schemes of other market segments. One grows and produces tea (mostly British, or rather Scottish “farmers”). The grown tea, already ready to be consumed, is bagged and sold to distributors (also British), and they pack it up and sell it under their own brands. The development of their own brands is already being invested in, but the cultivation is almost a “no-name” for the general user. Of course, each plantation has its own name. But what will any “over-the-top” traveler be told by some “Mac Loud” or “Rothschild”? Nothing! Better known than Lipton and Dilmah – isn’t it? Industrial tea packaging is, by the way, 60-kilogram bags.

The Nuwara Eliya – Kandy road reminded me of the tale of The Cat in Boots. Remember: “Whose land? The Marquis of Carabas.” Here too on this road there are solid plantation owners’ signs on both sides of the road: Estate Rotshild, Estate McDauel, Mackwoods …Scottish plantations, judging by the names, are extremely numerous. It is not without reason that the first tea merchant was a Scotsman.

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Tea Factory Tours
We go to the factory accompanied by a guide.

You can see the tea production process at the tea factory. Tourists are usually taken to one of the two large factories – or Mackwoods, which is one of the largest and oldest around Nuwara Eliya. They have a lot of land (real Carabas!).

And we stopped by the second one. The factory shows the manufacturing process. It’s stuffy and curious. There is a light suspension of tea dust in the air. The leaves are gathered and sorted by hand. For high grade (and high value) tea leaves are used unopened buds and the youngest leaves (the first and second group of leaves on the shoots, counting from the end) and the “coarser” teas are made from mature leaves. The work of the pickers is rather hard and monotonous: the ratio of the weight of the finished tea to the raw leaf is about one to four, which means that four kilograms of leaf must be gathered to make a kilogram of tea.

Then the wilting process begins. It consists of spreading the leaves on the upper floors so that air flows freely between them The process usually takes 8-10 hours. The tea is then twisted and pressurized and fermented, then it is sent to drying, and only then is what is produced sorted by fraction and fermentation into different varieties. Black is only distinguished from green by the degree of fermentation (or rather, green is not fermented at all), which I basically already knew. Basically the island produces black tea. I bought green tea as well. It was the wrong decision. Green tea is better to buy Chinese tea, but here I take black!

A few more words. Tea pickers and factories usually employ Tamils, i.e. Indians. The work is hard and the pay is low. Collecting tea is a very hard process, but very picturesque. It’s a pity we didn’t see the pickers because it started raining.

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Tea Factory Tours
Don’t ask what the machines are. One of them is a scale.

Orange Pekoe is a broken leaf and leaf bud tea with a mild flavor and aroma. BP1 Broken Pekoe 1 – pelleted tea obtained by “cut”, “break”, “twist” technology, the tea is strong. PF1 Pekoe Fannings 1 – finely pelleted tea with a strong flavor, usually comes “in bags” BOP1 Broken Orange Pekoe 1 – twisted broken leaf, with a mild hoppy flavor, usually grown on the plains. BOPF Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings is a high altitude tea made from an even finer leaf than BOP and even stronger. FBOPF Ex. Sp Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings Extra Special – whole leaf from multiple varieties, said to have a caramel flavor. FBOPF1 Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings 1 is a medium leaf plain tea, strong. Dust – tea “crumbs”, dust, goes in bags. Silver Tips – Selected leaf buds, exquisitely flavored tea with mystical healing properties, expensive. Gun Powder – green tea made with Chinese technology Sencha – green tea made with Japanese technology.

Ceylon plantations
These are the only tea pickers we met.

The main reason of visiting the factory was to buy a lot (a lot!) of tea as presents. And then in the pouring rain we drove to Kandy. Because of the rain coming down like a wall, I refuse a tour around the botanical garden. I don’t like it when it’s very wet.

By the way, our driver Capella says that it’s so often – it’s sunny in the morning and raining in the afternoon. Such is the seasonality.

Yes, another important tip about tea. They only sell 2 kilos per hand to take out of the country. It may seem that it is a lot. It’s not. It’s very little. Take the entire allowance, even though tea is not cheap. But part of it you’ll give away, and what’s left – you won’t notice how you’ll drink it with intimate company.

Sri Lanka. Tea bushes
And again – blooming tea.

Next, I’ll take a little break from Sri Lanka to get you acquainted with the Vinnitsa region. Next up will be.

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