Sri Lanka’s tea country among the mountains of the central massif and the southern foothills is divided into seven districts, each of which is known for producing tea of a distinct character. This is because each district has its own unique combination of climate and terrain.
In the Kandy district, where the industry began in 1867, the teas produced are described as “mid-grown” as cultivation does not exceed 1,300m.
They range in flavour depending on the altitude and whether or not the plantation is sheltered from monsoon winds. All are particularly flavoursome. Kandy teas produce a bright infusion with a coppery tone, and are strong and intensely fullbodied.
Nuwara Eliya, the best-known of Sri Lanka’s tea-growing districts, is the most mountainous, and has the highest average elevation. Combined with low temperature, this produces teas of exquisite bouquet.
The infusion in the cup is the palest of all the types of Ceylon Tea, with a golden hue and a delicately fragrant flavour. Sought after grades include whole-leaf Orange Pekoe (OP) and Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP)
The Uda Pussellawa district is situated close to Nuwara Eliya, so its tea is often compared to that of its neighbour. But it is darker in the cup, with a pinkish hue, of greater strength, and exquisitely tangy.
Colder conditions at year-end supposedly add a hint of rose to the bouquet of a tea known for its medium body and subtle character. Heavy rainfall, though, tends to produce tea that is even darker and stronger-flavoured.
The remote Uva district is exposed to the winds of both northeast and southwest monsoons, believed to endow the tea produced here with a special, unmistakable character and exotically aromatic flavour.
It was with tea grown on his Uva estates that Thomas Lipton, the Victorian magnate, persuaded Americans to drink tea. The mellow, smooth taste of Uva tea, once experienced, is easily distinguished.
Sabaragamuwa is Sri Lanka’s biggest district, the teas of which are low-grown as its estates range in elevation from sea level to 800m. Like Ruhuna, Sabaragamuwa produces a fast-growing bush with a long leaf.
The liquor, too, is similar to that of Ruhuna teas, dark yellow-brown with a reddish tint. The aroma, however, is noticeably different from the Ruhuna product, with a hint of sweet caramel, and not quite as strong: exceptionally stylish.
Between Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains lies the district of Dimbula, whose teas are defined as “high- grown” as all estates exceed an altitude of 1,250m.
The complex topography of the region produces a variety of microclimates, which produce differences in flavoursome- times jasmine mixed with cypress. All, however, share the Dimbula character: a tea that produces a fine golden-orange hue in the cup, and which is refreshingly mellow.
The teas of Ruhuna are defined as “low-grown” as they are cultivated at an altitude not exceeding 600m comprising vast sub regions from coastal plains to the Southern edge of Sinharaja Rain Forest.
The soil, combined with the low elevation of the estates, causes the tea-bush to grow rapidly, producing a long, beautiful leaf. Full-flavoured black tea is a distinctively unique Ruhuna speciality. Ruhuna factories produce a wide variety of leaf styles and sizes, including prized “tips”.