Sri-Lanka exports over one-third of all tea sold worldwide. In 2014 Sri-Lanka was second to Kenya in global tea exportation. China, India, Kenya, and Sri-Lanka have been synonymous with the finest teas in the world. Ceylon Tea is known for the highest quality and standards of tea research. Many experts from around the world come to Sri-Lanka to study the long tradition of agriculture and manufacturing of tea. Sri Lanka is widely recognized as a global focal point of tea education specializing in tea cultivation and quality assurance.
Over 188,175 hectares (727 sq mi) or approximately 4% of the countrysland area is covered in tea plantations. The crop is best grown at high altitudes of over 2,100 m (6,890 ft), and the plants require an annual rainfall of more than 100–125 cm (39–49 in).
Tea is cultivated in Sri Lanka using the ‘contour planting’ method, where tea bushes are planted in lines in coordination with the contours of the land, usually on slopes. For commercial manufacture the ‘flush’ or leaf growth on the side branches and stems of the bush are used. Generally two leaves and a bud, which have the flavour and aroma, are skilfully plucked, usually by women. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries where each tea leaf is picked by hand rather than by mechanization; if machinery were used, often a considerable number of coarse leaves and twigs could be mixed in, adding bulk but not flavor to the tea. With experience the women acquire the ability to pluck rapidly and set a daily target of around 15 to 20 kg (33 to 44 lb) of tea leaves to be weighed and then transported to the nearby tea factory.
Tea plants in Sri Lanka require constant nurturing and attention. An important part of the process is taking care of the soils with the regular application of fertilizer. Younger plants are regularly cut back 10–15 cm (4–6 in) from the ground to encourage lateral growth and are pruned very frequently with a special knife.
The tea factories found on most tea estates in Sri Lanka are crucial to the final quality and value of manufactured tea. After plucking, the tea is very quickly taken to the muster sheds to be weighed and monitored under close supervision, and then the teas are brought to the factory. A tea factory in Sri Lanka is typically a multi-storied building and located on tea estates to minimize the costs and time between plucking and tea processing. The tea leaves are taken to the upper floors of the factories where they are spread in troughs, a process known as withering, which removes excess moisture in the leaf. Once withered, the tea leaves are rolled, twisted and parted, which serves as a catalyst for the enzymes in the leaves to react with the oxygen in the air, especially with the production of black tea.
Want to Learn More:
Our friend Maxwell Fernando has written an amazing book entitled “The Story of Ceylon Tea”