Ceylon Tea: Health Benefits and History
Most of us will be aware of the name Ceylon Tea, but what are the facts? Where does it come from; what does it taste like; and does it have any health benefits? First of all, it’s important to note that no two Ceylon Teas are ever the same. With that in mind, you can only imagine the possibilities to be had from brewing up these tasty beverages.
Today, Ceylon Teas are some of the most popular found anywhere in the world. The Ceylon Tea industry caters primarily to Black Teas, the likes of which taste amazing hot or cold. In fact, Ceylon Black Teas are the most common base for Iced teas, and are also used to a great extent in numerous Breakfast Tea blends. But the industry is expanding, and soon, could quite easily compete with the giant that is China’s Tea Industry.
Already in 2016, Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, was the second largest exporter of tea at an astonishing 19.2% of the world’s total output, amounting to $1.3 Billion USD. This surpassed Kenya’s Tea Industry which was 3rd (10.4% at $680.6 Million USD) and India’s Tea Industry which was 4th (10.1% at $661.7 Million USD). China still reigns supreme where, in 2016, it accounted for 22.8% of world tea exports at $1.5 Billion USD. But who’s to say for how much longer? Two years later and 2018 is already well underway; now, its anyone’s game.
Here at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, we watch with fascination as Ceylon Tea continues to grow. So, why make the change from, say, Assam Tea or Darjeeling Tea, or even any Chinese Teas.
What is Ceylon Tea?
Ceylon Teas are grown exclusively on a lush, green, fertile island that now constitutes the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. The island lies in the Bay of Bengal, just below the southeastern tip of India. Despite its confusing name, Ceylon Tea is technically a Sri Lankan Tea.
Like many foundations of this relatively new country, the name “Ceylon Tea” is merely a remnant of the British Empire. It reverts to a time when Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon, then a British colony. However, while Sri Lankans have since attained independence from Britain, Ceylon Tea has remained the same name.
This is because, in 1972, some 20 years after independence, the Sri Lankan government was faced with a dire logistical issue. While the country was soon to become known as Sri Lanka, “Ceylon” Tea had long been established as a “brand” name by and large. Abandoning the name to be replaced with “Sri Lanka Tea” had the potential to be ruinous owing to its obscurity. The answer was quite simple: keep the name of the tea, change everything else. And so they did.
Today, any tea classified as a “Ceylon Tea” must be manufactured entirely in Sri Lanka; it must also conform to strict quality standards laid down and administered by the Sri Lanka Tea Board. Even a blend that’s 95% Sri Lankan cannot be classified as a Ceylon Tea without these standards in place. But while the technicalities are certainly important, the real truth is in the taste (and in which region to find it!).
Ceylon Tea by Region
Varying elevations and climates are two of the main contributors to the taste of Ceylon Tea. As of present, 4% of the country’s land is covered by Tea Plantations. Almost every single plantation found in Sri Lanka boasts unique tea-growing conditions. These are spread throughout many regions with each offering its own distinct take on Ceylon Tea.
The Central Province of Sri Lanka hosts some of the best-known tea-growing regions. This includes Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, and Dimbula. Many other regions can be found in the Uva province. Furthermore, there is Galle in the Southern Province and Ratnapura in the Sabaragamuwa Province. The best Ceylon Teas are harvested from June to August in most eastern districts and from the beginning of February to mid March in most western districts. To understand the wonderful tasting notes of some of our most popular Ceylon Teas, let’s explore the main tea-growing regions and what they have to offer:
Dimbula Tea District:
Located between two high plateaus in the Central Province, the district of Dimbula is known for some of the best tea plantations in Sri Lanka. The name of this district is derived from the valley that lies in the heart of the region. It’s also surrounded by the sub-districts of Bogawantalawa, Dickoya, Kotagala, Maskeliya, Nanu-Oya and Talawakelle. The area boasts rich wildlife; elephants by the thousands, deer and sambhur by the tens of thousands, and eagles soaring above its beautiful, iconic landscape.
Dimbula was also one of the first districts to experiment with tea growing. In fact, to this day, most residents to be found in Dimbula are themselves plantation workers. Teas grown on these plantations are characterised as “high-grown”; the regional definition specifies an elevation of between 1,100m and 1,600m (3,500-5,000ft.), but in practice, the region’s estates all stand at an altitude of over 1,250m (4,000ft). The complex topography of the region produces a variety of microclimates which, in turn, offer varying flavours in tea. Most, however, are described as refreshingly mellow.
Kandy Tea District:
Historically, the district of Kandy is where it all started for the Ceylon Tea industry. The region and the city of Kandy (incidentally the regional capital) itself lie in the midst of the Kandy plateau. But though the capital nestles in a relatively low-lying valley, the estates themselves are dotted about the surrounding hills in Nilambe, Hantane, Pussellawa, Gampola, and Hewaheta.
Ceylon Tea from the Kandy region is often described as “mid-grown”, with the altitude of cultivation ranging between 650m and 1,300m (2,000-4,000ft). Most Kandy district estates lie on the western slopes of the nearby hills, so their taste is largely influenced by the ‘western quality season’, meaning that the best Ceylon Tea is produced during the first quarter of the year when cool, dry weather sets in across the region.
The range of flavour and profile depends on the altitude and whether the plantation is sheltered from monsoon winds, but most have a notably bold taste. Kandy Teas are predominantly strong and intensely full-bodied. They are a favourite for many tea connoisseurs.
Nuwara Eliya Tea District:
The landscape surrounding the Nuwara Eliya district is often described as rugged and mountainous. It also has the highest elevation of any tea-growing region in Sri Lanka, with most plantations found at 1,900m (6,200ft) above sea level. Nuwara Eliya is located west of Uva and north of Dambulla. Once almost entirely inaccessible due to the precipitous, jungle-clad terrain surrounding Nuwara Eliya, the area was effectively uninhabited when discovered by a renowned British explorer in 1818.
Today, the air is cool and refreshing; the winds are scented with eucalyptus and wild mint. The region has a unique climate which, when combined with its ideal tea-growing terrain, produces a tea that is recognised by many connoisseurs as among the finest, if not the finest in Sri Lanka. These Ceylon Teas boast a delicate, floral fragrance and a light, brisk flavour. Sought after grades include whole-leaf Orange Pekoe (OP) and Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP).
Uva Tea District:
Technically a province unto itself, Uva is known for producing Ceylon Teas with distinctively sweet flavours and woody aromas. It’s considered Sri Lanka’s most remote province despite the fact that Kandy and Nuwara Eliya are not too far away (as the crow flies). Most amazing of all, access to its provincial capital, Badulla, is only possible over steep, winding mountain roads. To this day, Uva remains sparsely populated, and as a result, its economy is largely dependent on tea production.
These teas are usually grown at an elevation of 900m and 1,500m (3,000-5,000ft). Uva is often exposed to the winds of both northeast and southwest monsoons. These unique conditions are believed to be the main contributor to the unmistakable character of Uva-grown Ceylon Black Tea. In addition to this, Ceylon Green Tea is now grown in Idalgashinna, and in recent years, the Uva district has also experimented with White Tea production. Incidentally, the best harvests are from August to October.
Ceylon Tea by Grade
There are only minimal differences between the grading of Ceylon Tea and any other Black Tea. Orange Pekoe (OP), for example, is sometimes referred to as OP1 or even OPA. But what does it all mean? Grading a leaf of tea has nothing to do with quality; it instead establishes the size of the leaf.
FOP: Flowery Orange Pekoe denotes tea made from the top bud and the first two leaves of each new shoot. Flowery Orange Pekoe Teas contain young, tender leaves with a balanced amount of 'Tip' or 'Bud'.
OP/OP1/OPA: Orange Pekoe contains leaves that are larger than an FOP. These are harvested when the buds have had the opportunity to open into leaves. Orange Pekoe Teas seldom contain tip.
BOP: Broken Orange Pekoe uses the same leaf as an Orange Pekoe, but these leaves are broken into small pieces.
The History of Ceylon Tea
The seeds that would sow the future of Sri Lanka’s tea industry were not, in fact, from the Camellia sinensis plant. Astoundingly, it was Ceylon’s coffee industry, or rather its eventual failure, that brought rise to tea. But even before then, the story of Ceylon Tea began, in many ways, some 5,500 miles away from Sri Lanka in the highlands of Scotland. It was here that James Taylor, soon-to-be-world-famous tea planter and entrepreneur, was born.
This was just after the surrender of Kandy, the last surviving indigenously-ruled state in Ceylon, to the British Crown in the early 1820’s. By then, the rest of the island had long been part of the British Empire, but the cost of maintaining the military presence and infrastructure necessary to secure it was proving to be increasingly difficult.
Experiments with coffee had already begun during this period in an attempt to boost the economy and, in turn, help further British interests. In 1824, the fifth of Ceylon’s colonial governors, Edward Barnes, oversaw the expansion of the still-fledgling coffee industry on the island. The plant had already been found growing naturally in what is today the Central Province of Sri Lanka, but large-scale cultivation throughout the early to mid 19th Century saw Ceylon transform into a coffee-growing hub.
Yet this was to be short-lived. In 1869, the first signs of a new plant disease, coffee-rust, appeared on a plantation in Madulsima. Over the course of the next decade, Ceylon’s coffee industry diminished greatly, and was eventually near enough wiped out.
Just before the first signs of the disease, however, James Taylor had already begun experimenting with tea-growing in Ceylon. He arrived in British Ceylon, specifically Kandy, in 1851, and had seldom left his estate and its surrounding area during that time. “You may think I write too much about the scenery,” suggested James Taylor in a letter home to Scotland, “but if you could see it for yourself, you would understand why I write so”. First, tea had been brought over from China and planted in the Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya for non-commercial purposes, but by the time coffee-rust took hold, Taylor had already established 19 acres of tea in his Loolecondera estate in Kandy.
In 1872, three years following the coffee-rust outbreak, Taylor established a fully equipped tea factory at his estate. In the same year, he made the first sale of Kandy-grown Ceylon Tea. The year following, in 1873, the first international sale of tea was made, a shipment consisting of 23Ib of Ceylon Tea to an auction in London. Soon, planters from all over the hill country were visiting Loolecondera to learn the art of growing and manufacturing tea.
But success did not come easily. In order to expand tea cultivation in Ceylon, more than 120,000 hectares (300,000 acres) of land had to be stripped of dead and dying coffee-bushes to make way for tea planting. These exploits did not go unnoticed around the world, as noted by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes stories. He described in his short story ‘De Profundis’ how
“a rotten fungus drove a whole community through years of despair to one of the greatest commercial victories which pluck and ingenuity ever won”, adding that “the tea-fields of Ceylon are as true a monument to courage as is the lion at Waterloo”.
By 1899, Ceylon’s coffee industry had collapsed. Ceylon Tea, meanwhile, occupied nearly 160,000 hectares (400,000 acres) of cultivated land. Six years previously, in 1893, one million packets of Ceylon Tea had sold at Chicago’s World Fair in the United States. British Ceylon entered the 20th Century with its head held high. By 1927, the production of tea in the country exceeded 100,000 metric tonnes which was almost entirely for export purposes.
The Tea Propaganda Board, a privately-funded industry initiative similar to today’s Sri Lanka Tea Board, was formed in 1932. Two years later, legislation was passed to prevent the export of tea considered “inferior”, ensuring quality for generations to come. Yet some of the most radical changes to the Ceylon Tea Industry were not made until the country’s Independence from Britain in 1948.
Ceylon, as it was still known until 1972, continued to expand its tea industry long past independence and right through until today. By 1962, however, the country was temporarily the biggest tea exporter in the world. Following the establishment of a new government in 1970; one that was both nationalist and socialist; a new land reform law was introduced. This limited privately-owned (though not corporate) landholdings to 50 acres, or just over 20 hectares, which had a great impact on many native-born Sri Lankans.
Today, the turbulence caused by this reform can still be felt amongst the population. Just last year, Sri Lanka also suffered one of the worst droughts in four decades. Tea farmers were badly hit by the dry spell, but hopes are high for 2018. The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company will support the Ceylon Tea industry every step of the way.
Health Benefits of Ceylon Tea
We’ve all heard about Green Tea and its outstanding health-promoting properties, but what about Black Tea; specifically Ceylon Tea? As it turns out, black teas to originate from Sri Lanka have a wealth of antioxidants, particularly antioxidant compounds called theaflavin and thearubigin. Although believed to be less substantial in their beneficial properties compared to Green Tea, these constituents still have the capability of combating free radicals found within the body.
Free radicals are the product of oxidation, a natural process of the body related to the transference of oxygen around your system. But when these harmful unpaired electrons are left unchecked, free radicals have the potential to wreak havoc on your health. Ultimately, the presence of free radicals in the body can increase the risks of cardiovascular disease and even cancer. The antioxidants in Ceylon Tea, meanwhile, can neutralise these free radicals, thus reducing the risks. But what else can Ceylon Tea do for you, and how?
Ceylon Tea and Cancer
The jury’s still out on this one, but the early evidence is looking very promising indeed. In 2015 meta-analysis found that drinking a cup of tea a day (no matter the type) reduced the risks of developing cancer by 2%. Those who drank the most tea, on the other hand, had a 21% lower cancer risk than those who drank none.
Studies are ongoing, but many scientists believe that the antioxidants found in tea - including, of course, Ceylon Tea - afford protection against cancers of the lung, forestomach, oesophagus, duodenum, pancreas, liver, breast, colon, and skin. It’s important to note, however, that most trials have been animal based excluding the above meta-analysis. Until more is known, The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company do not endorse the consumption of Ceylon Tea, or any Tea, for reducing the risks of Cancer. Despite this, we fully support further research and will be following the development of such studies.
Ceylon Tea and Enhanced Cognitive Function
In the UK alone, an estimated 750,000 people suffer from conditions such as Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, with the number set to double in the next 40 years as Britain’s population ages. Could Black Teas such as Ceylon Tea be the answer? Quite possibly. This is according to new research published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition”. It stated that experts had conducted a study at the University of Singapore.
This saw some 2,500 people aged 55 or over undergo a test to measure their cognitive function. When the experiment was repeated 2 years later, results established that those who had drunk two to three cups of black tea a day during the 2 year period were 55% less likely to be subjected to cognitive decline. Meanwhile, those who had drunk six to ten cups a day were up to 63% less likely.
Ceylon Tea and Weight Loss
It might be February, but it’s not too late to start dropping those pesky pounds. Furthermore, Ceylon Tea can help you along the way owing to its metabolism-boosting properties. A metabolism refers to the chemical reactions that take place in your body’s cells. It essentially converts the fuel in your food into energy, which is then used to power near enough everything we do. A boosted metabolism can come from frequently consuming Ceylon Tea. This, in turn, helps the body to burn fat quicker, and far more efficiently.
This benefit is most noticeable when consuming Ceylon Tea as part of a healthy and active lifestyle. Drinking this tea should not be an alternative to exercise, it should be an accompaniment. Unfortunately, there is no escaping the morning jog if you want to lose weight, but Ceylon Tea could help you make the most of it.
Ceylon Tea and Improved Oral Health
It’s a common misconception that Black Tea has a negative impact on oral health. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. New research has surfaced as part of a collaborative study conducted in conjunction with the College of Dentistry at the University of Iowa and the Institute of Odontology at Göteborg University in Sweden. The results were recently presented at a meeting of the American Society of Microbiology in Orlando, Florida.
The aim of the collaborative study was to uncover the cavity-fighting potential of Black Tea. Participants in the U.S. division of the study were given Black Tea to rinse their mouth with for 30 seconds, five times, waiting three minutes between each rinse to simulate the effect of sipping tea. Meanwhile, the Swedish division saw participants undergo a slightly different test. They were instead instructed to rinse their mouth with Black Tea for one minute, 10 times a day. Ultimately, both co-operating studies discovered that the more participants rinsed, the more their plaque and bacteria levels fell.
This is because the Polyphenolic compounds present in Black Tea can kill or suppress cavity-causing bacteria from either growing or producing acid. The tea also affected the bacterial enzymes and prevented the formation of the sticky-like material that binds plaque to teeth.
Why not Try Ceylon Teas
We have a vast selection of Ceylon Teas from all across Sri Lanka. Every single tea comes with our seal of approval in terms of quality. If you wish to keep things simple, then why not start with our Ceylon Tea Bags? This strong Black Tea is known for its aromatic liquor and rich flavour.
Alternatively, if you want to explore Ceylon Tea region by region, then we suggest beginning with our Ceylon Orange Pekoe Dimbula. This Single Estate beverage is, like many Dimbula-grown teas, very full-bodied and boasts a strong, delectably malty flavour. We also have a Ceylon Orange Pekoe Kandy which is just as tasty but with a noticeably more delicate flavour. Then we have our Ceylon Orange Pekoe Nuwara Eliya, another highly aromatic brew with subtle spicy notes and a malty bouquet.
We would like to personally recommend our Ceylon Orange Pekoe Uva for those who enjoy their teas light and mellow. But these are not the only Ceylon Teas we have to offer.
Explore our website or come and visit us in store to see which Ceylon Tea best suits your palate. Maybe you’d prefer our Ceylon Ratnapura Special FOP? Or perhaps our Ceylon Tea Kandy Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP)? Find out today with The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company.