If there is one thing you must do on a holiday in Sri Lanka that is to taste a good ol’ cuppa Ceylon Tea. If you are a tea connoisseur or even just taken a fancy to it, you can embark on a journey to experience the how, why and what of this trade.
Visit a tea boutique of an established brand to indulge in a spot of tea tasting or go all the way out to the rolling hills to witness the journey from the bush to the teacup.
You will soon discover that the taste and quality of tea vary and it’s a far more subtle and diverse brew than you imagined. One aspect to explore with tea is the different grades. Whether your palate prefers a strong cup or a light brew it all boils down to the grade. Harvested tea leaves are withered, rolled, oxidised and dried and then finally sifted. It is this last step that results in the various grades of tea.
The bulk tea out of the dryer is a mixture of all grades, and the sifting process sorts tea according to the leaf size. The leafiest grades are the Orange Pekoe (OP) grades that are followed by a series that ends with Dust 1. The leafy grades produce a light cup of subtle flavour and are best had plain without milk or sugar or in some cases with a dash of milk. Conversely the latter grades are the smallest particles and brew a strong cup requiring milk and sugar to taste.
Following is a summary breakdown of the grades of tea to help you decipher tastes and flavours, in the event a bout of tea tasting comes your way.
The least processed tea, the delicate leaves are the
fine white tips of the unopened buds of the tea plant and brews a very mellow light cup.
Well twisted long leaf tea with a light liquoring cup.
Flowery orange pekoe
Well twisted leaf with a slight show of white tip. Light liquoring flavoursome cup.
Flowery broken orange pekoe 1 and flowery broken orange pekoe
Well twisted, slightly shorter leaf than OP. The latter grade is the smaller version with a slight show of tip. Flavoury light cup, stronger than the previous grades, OP and FOP.
Flowery pekoe and pekoe
Curly leaf with a shorter twist. Well made and pleasing to look at. Flowery refers to a slight show of tip. Cup character slightly stronger than FBOP. Flavoury and fragrant.
Broken orange pekoe 1
A neat twisted leaf. Shorter than FBOP. Pleasing stronger cup character.
Broken orange pekoe
Broken particles of the previous grades. Short twisted leaf with a stronger cup character
Broken orange pekoe fannings
Smaller particles of a grainy nature. This is the leaf that is sifted out of the leafy grades. Leaves suitable for use in tea bags. Possesses a strong coloured cup with greater astringency.
The smallest grainy particles from the bulk of tea. This grade possesses the strongest most coloured cup with the greatest astringency.
How to brew a perfect cup
In brewing a perfect cup, in addition to using a good quality tea brand there are a few other steps to be mindful of. The quality of water influences the taste and the brewing of tea. Tea brews well in soft spring water devoid of heavy minerals. To improve the quality of tap water, a pan filled and left over night covered with soft cloth helps reduce chlorine. This water can be boiled and used for brewing tea.
One teaspoonful or teabag that equates to two grams of tea is suitable for brewing one cup with freshly boiled water (98ºC) for three minutes in case of plain tea or five minutes maximum for strong milk tea. You can double the quantity and brew for five minutes for very strong tea to consume with extra milk.