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Ceylon Tea: History and Interesting Facts

Ceylon Tea: History and Interesting Facts

Even though the name of the country was changed from Ceylon to Sri Lanka, tea from Sri Lanka is still marketed as Ceylon Tea, because it is the country's most famous product. This Tastessence article narrates the history of this tea and presents some interesting facts about the same.
Leena Palande
Did You Know?

Approximately 3 billion cups of tea are consumed daily worldwide. To get one pound of dried tea, four pounds of fresh tea leaves need to be processed. The tea industry is flourishing as a result of this.

Prior to independence, the island nation of Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon. The people of Ceylon started cultivating and manufacturing tea during the British era.
The taste, flavor, aroma, quality, character, and appearance of a tea is significantly influenced by the climatic conditions of the region where it is grown. Prolonged exposure to sunshine, rainfall, chilly winds, dry, moist, warm, or cool conditions, the altitude at which the tea plants are grown, the time of the year when the leaves are picked, etc., determine the color, tone, quality, and character of the tea. The British discovered that Ceylon had the ideal climatic conditions for tea cultivation. Ceylon tea, because of its distinct taste and character, became everyone's favorite energy drink. As you know, tea is the most consumed, popular drink after water. The refreshing and delicate taste of Ceylon tea makes it unique.
What is Ceylon Tea?
As the brand 'Ceylon Tea' is associated with quality, the manufacturers in Sri Lanka can use the special name 'Ceylon Tea' and the famous 'Lion logo' that goes with it, only if the tea is grown and manufactured entirely in Sri Lanka, and if it conforms to the strict quality standards laid down and administered by the Sri Lanka Tea Board. The tea should not be mixed or blended with tea from any other part of the world. Even a blend that is 95% Sri Lankan cannot be labeled as Ceylon Tea. These days, varieties such as Ceylon black tea, white tea (the most expensive one, also known as 'silver tips'), and green tea are available in the market. Ceylon Tea packets have the slogan 'Pure Ceylon Tea - Packed in Sri Lanka' printed on them. The logo and the slogan are the signs of assurance of the origin of the tea and of its quality.
History of Ceylon Tea
It is said that 'tea' originated in China about 5000 years ago. But the credit for worldwide popularity of tea in the 19th and 20th centuries goes to Ceylon. Tea gained popularity as various types of tea were introduced in the markets worldwide.
In 1824, the British brought a tea plant (Camellia sinensis, an evergreen plant) from China and planted it in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya, Kandy (the historic capital of the last kingdom of Sri Lanka).
The history of Ceylon tea informs us that, Scotsman James Taylor, the pioneer of the Sri Lanka Tea Industry, planted the first tea estate (20 acres of tea on the Loolecondera estate) in the city of Kandy, in 1867. He discovered and introduced the technique of fine plucking - 'two leaves and a bud.'
He started a well-equipped tea factory in Loolecondera estate in 1872. In 1875, Taylor sent the first shipment of Ceylon Tea to the London tea auction.
When Taylor lived in Loolecondera estate, the export of tea accelerated from 23 pounds (10 kg) to 22,900 tons (in 1890). Taylor died in 1892.
A British named Henry Randolph Trafford, owner of the coffee estates in Kandy, who knew how to produce tea, is also considered as one of the pioneers of tea cultivation in Ceylon. By 1880, he switched to tea plantation and within a few years, almost all the coffee plantations in Ceylon were converted to tea.
In the 1870s and '80s, many British companies showed interest in purchasing tea estates in Sri Lanka. Four estates were purchased by a grocer whose name is almost a synonym for tea: Thomas Lipton.
By 1888, the area under cultivation of tea exceeded that of coffee. About 400,000 acres (1,619 km2) of land was covered by tea plants in 1899.
One million Ceylon Tea packets were sold at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. That same year the tea was sold at a record price of £36.15 per lb at the London Tea Auctions.
The Colombo Tea Traders' Association was formed in 1894. In 1896 the Colombo Brokers' Association was formed. The Tea Research Institute was established in 1925. With the help of these organizations, the production and export of Ceylon Tea increased dramatically, in its early stages.
By the 1960s, the total tea production and exports exceeded 200,000 metric tons. By 1965 Sri Lanka became the world's largest tea exporter for the first time.
In 1963, Sri Lankans started producing and exporting instant teas.
In 1966, the first International Tea Convention was held to commemorate 100 years of the tea industry in Sri Lanka.
During 1971-1972, the government of Sri Lanka nationalized the tea estates owned by the British companies. After the land reforms, no cultivator was allowed to own over 50 acres for any purpose.
In 1976, the Sri Lanka Tea Board was established. That same year, the exports of tea bags also commenced.
The multinationals who took over the Ceylon Tea industry about 50 years ago started paying more attention to profit-making factors (selling the tea at the lowest possible price), and did not bother about the quality and authenticity of the tea.
In 1981, the import of teas for blending and re-export were introduced. This type of commercialization led to the production of a 'tea mixture', a mixture of various types of tea from several countries. This resulted in a significant decline in demand for Ceylon Tea.
In 1992-93, due to heavy losses, many of the government-owned tea estates which had been nationalized in the early 1970s were privatized again.
Some estate owners again started cultivating and selling pure Ceylon Tea in a traditional way. Tea lovers may buy the tea that is 'picked, perfected, and packed' at the origin (Ceylon).
By 1996, Sri Lanka's tea production had exceeded 250,000 metric tons, growing to over 300,000 metric tons by the year 2000.
In 2001, the first on-line sales of tea commenced, sold by Forbes & Walker Ltd., at the Colombo Tea Auctions.
A Tea Museum was established in Kandy and in 2002, the Tea Association of Sri Lanka was formed.
Health Benefits
Like all other good-quality green teas, Ceylon Green Tea contains tannins, vitamin C, chlorophyll, and minerals in large amounts. It contains relatively low amounts of caffeine (1%), and acts as a mild stimulant. It does not cause insomnia or nervousness. Lower caffeine content means lower risk of heart attack and hypertension. A compound called L-theanine present in the tea promotes a feeling of relaxation, and maintains mental alertness. The antioxidant capacity of a tea depends on how long you brew it.
Ceylon White Tea is the least processed of all Ceylon Teas and it contains the least amount of caffeine (10-15 milligrams per 8 oz). It exhibits antioxidant, antibacterial, diuretic, and antiviral properties, and helps strengthen your immune system. It protects you from many degenerative diseases. It works great for sore throat, common cold, and depression. The tea helps increase urine flow. It works as a detoxifying agent and prevents the formation of kidney stones. It helps lower blood cholesterol levels. Nutrients in the tea can prevent lipid oxidation and plaque formation. This reduces the chances of having heart diseases and stroke. The tea suppresses the growth of harmful bacteria and favors the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Tea Consumption during Pregnancy
Pregnant women should consume green tea in moderation. This applies to Ceylon tea too. Being a health-promoting drink, one or two cups of tea would not cause any damage, but excessive consumption of caffeine can affect the absorption of folic acid adversely. As you know, folic acid plays an important role in the first trimester of pregnancy. One study has shown that excessive consumption of tea by women around the time of conception can result in development of neural tube defects like 'spina bifida' in babies. The tea, when taken with meals, can affect the iron-absorbing capacity of the woman. Her body may not absorb iron from non-meat foods. Women who have high intolerance to caffeine should avoid drinking tea.
Interesting Facts about Ceylon Tea
Like all other teas, Ceylon tea falls into three categories: low-grown (on estates up to 600 m / 2000 ft high); medium-grown (between 600-1,200 m / 2000-4000 ft); and high-grown (over 1200m / 4000 ft). Each level produces teas of a unique character. High-grown teas have a bright and strong taste. Low-grown teas are deep in color, while mid-grown teas are rich and full-bodied teas. Teas grown on an elevation of around 3,000 feet are supposed to be high-quality teas. They are very light and greenish in color. They have a honey-golden color and an enchanting aroma.
In 1980, Sri Lanka was the official supplier of tea at the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympic Games, in 1982 at the 12th Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, and in 1987 at the Expo 88 in Australia.
According to the World Tea Council, in 2012, Sri Lanka exported 340 million kilograms of tea, the third-highest by volume behind Kenya and China, though number two when measured in 'value' terms.
Lovers of fine tea prefer Ceylon Tea for its unmatched quality. Perfect humidity, cool temperatures, availability of sunshine, and sufficient rainfall in the country's central highlands make Sri Lanka a perfect location for the production of high-quality tea.