Why "Ceylon" Tea
Green and lushly fertile, the island republic of Sri Lanka lies in the Bay of Bengal, just below the southeastern tip of India. Sri Lanka was formerly a British crown colony known as Ceylon, a name it kept for nearly a quarter-century after independence.
It was during the British era that tea first began to be cultivated and manufactured here. Tea from Ceylon soon gained the reputation of being the finest in the world, and tea exports became the mainstay of the colonial economy. Housewives and restaurateurs across the globe grew familiar with the name of the country, learning that its appearance on a tin or packet reliably guaranteed the quality of the tea inside. Independence brought new markets, and production continued to increase. In 1965 Ceylon became, for the first time, the world’s largest exporter of tea.
When the country changed its name to Sri Lanka in 1972, its premier industry was faced with a knotty problem. Ceylon was not only the former name of the country; it was also one of the world’s leading brands, familiar to consumers from Virginia to Vladivostok – a brand the industry had been actively promoting and investing in since the early 1930s. Abandoning it would deliver a setback from which there could be no easy recovery. And the cost of promoting and establishing an unfamiliar new brand – ‘Sri Lanka Tea’ – would be ruinous.
Though opposed by some who demanded a complete break with the colonial past and a new start for the country, industry leaders managed to persuade the socialist government then in power to permit the continued use of the name Ceylon to refer to the country’s most famous product. Tea from Sri Lanka would still be marketed as Ceylon Tea; a priceless world brand had been saved.
To qualify for the special, legal distinction denoted by the words ‘Ceylon Tea’, and for the famous Lion logo that goes with it, the tea must not only be grown and manufactured entirely in Sri Lanka; it must also conform to strict quality standards laid down and administered by the Sri Lanka Tea Board. It cannot, moreover, be mixed or blended with tea from any other part of the world. Even a blend that is 95% Sri Lankan cannot be described as Ceylon Tea.
Tea bearing the Lion Logo must also be packed in Sri Lanka. Overseas importers and distributors cannot use the logo on their packaging, though if the contents are 100% Sri Lankan, the name ‘Ceylon Tea’ may still legally be used. These strictures are needed to help consumers distinguish real Ceylon Tea from the thousands of products, including many with international brand names that are available around the world, which contain tea of mixed, non-specific origin.
These products are blended from whatever teas are available on the international markets. The skill of the blender ensures a consistent product regardless of origin, while the firm enjoys economies of scale and suffers no supply-side anxieties. However, the level of quality rarely equals that attained by single-origin teas, and such blends can never emulate the character, so prized by connoisseurs, of pure Ceylon Tea.
The Lion of Ceylon
Indivisibly associated with the Ceylon Tea brand is the famous Lion of Ceylon logo, found only on packages of pure Ceylon tea packed in Sri Lanka prior to export. The logo is based on the Lion of Ceylon, an ancient heraldic device which decorates the national flag of Sri Lanka. It was first adopted by the Tea Propaganda Board, one of the precursors of the present Tea Board, and is a registered trademark in over a hundred countries around the world.
Looked at superficially, the cultivation and manufacture of tea does not seem to be a complex process. Bushes grow on a hillside; every day, the tenderest new leaves and buds are carefully picked off or ‘plucked’ and carried to a nearby factory. Here they are withered, rolled until the leaf cells rupture, left for some time to aerate, then dried in hot air; after which the tea is sorted according to leaf particle size and packed for sale. Though managing the process clearly takes considerable experience and judgement if a product that is even palatable is to result from it, the steps themselves are relatively straightforward. However, the products of this apparently simple process vary enormously in their flavour and character. No surprise that teas from different countries, or different regions of a single country, should differ from one another
but among the tea-growing districts of Ceylon, small subdivisions within a district and even individual estates often show a recognized character, and a well-trained tea taster can even detect differences between teas picked from one hillside or another on a single estate! In addition, seasonal and weather-related variations can also be detected – in the case of districts like Dimbula and Uva, such variations can greatly alter the character (though not necessarily the quality) of the tea.
The primary source of this variation is climate, both that generally prevailing in the district and the weather over the weeks prior to plucking. Altitude, the orientation of the hill slope and the soil in which the bush grows all have their effects. Also, a good deal of variation can occur during the process of manufacture. Drinkers of blended and non-single-origin teas never experience the incredible variety these factors can produce. Such teas are homogenised to produce a constant, predictable character that does not change from shipment to shipment or from month to month. It is rarely very subtle or complex, for it must be re-created week after week by blending whatever teas fall within the firm’s budget at that week’s auctions – a selection which is sure to be somewhat different from last week’s selection and that of the week before.
But even such mass-market teas are products of the tea-taster’s art. All parties engaged in the tea ‘trade’ – manufacturers, merchants, brokers and buyers – employ tea-tasters to assess the quality and value of the products in which they deal. Tea-tasting is a highly skilled job, requiring as much as five years’ training to build reliable expertise in judging the subtlest of variations between leaf and leaf, infusion and infusion. And although the training, procedure and vocabulary of tea-tasting do not vary much among professionals, it remains something of a black art, one in which decisions are often made on the basis of distinctions imperceptible to the untrained onlooker. The skills of the best tasters appear to be at least partly innate, and such skills are highly prized.
Sri Lanka’s tea cultivators and manufacturers are the custodians of the traditional, orthodox method of black tea production. This is still agreed by most experts to produce the best black tea. Even with the technological improvements introduced over the last thirty or forty years, the orthodox method is relatively slow and labour-intensive; but as the tea planters and traders of Sri Lanka have always maintained, good tea cannot be hurried. Nor, oddly enough, can it be delayed.The time devoted to each of the processes of tea manufacture has to be finely judged if a quality product is to be obtained. This is a matter of the tea-maker’s judgement,for the right timing depends on the moisture content of the plucked leaf, the temperature and humidity conditions prevailing over the period of manufacture,and a variety of other factors. Although the process of making fine black tea is simple in its essentials, expertise, experience and a ‘feel’ for the task are absolutely essential to success.
Plucking The process of manufacture commences when the leaves are picked or ‘plucked’. Plucking calls for discrimination and dexterity and is carried out mainly by women. Only the uppermost foliage on every stem is picked – the famous ‘two leaves and a bud’ – and the stem itself must be left undamaged. Fiddly work, but a skilled tea-plucker can collect up to 20kg. (44lb.) of leaf daily
Weighing On arrival at the factory, the raw leaf is weighed. The total weight recorded for the day’s batch provides a benchmark for quality assessment at the end of the process of manufacture. After weighing, the tea is laid out for withering.
Withering Raw leaf is ‘fluffed’ and spread out to dry on racks or troughs in a well lit and ventilated space. It will lie here for 18-24 hours, slowly losing moisture and undergoing physical and chemical changes essential to manufacture. Over-withering can be fatal, so the process is carefully monitored. It is complete when about two-thirds of the moisture present in the raw leaf has evaporated.
Rolling The withered leaf is now ready for rolling. This is a mechanized process in which the leaf cells are ruptured to release enzymes and bring them into contact with air so that aeration can commence. The bits of broken and rolled leaf are called dhools. The dhools are then broken up and sifted before aeration.
Aeration During this critical stage of manufacture, important chemical reactions take place through the action of air on the leaf tissue. The rolled, broken leaf is spread out on tables and exposed for a period that varies between 20 minutes and five hours, depending on a variety of factors, including what kind of final product is desired. The withered tea leaf is a rusty, coppery orange colour. Again, timing is critical: under-aerated tea tastes raw and green, over-aerated tea is soft and tasteless. Aeration is also sometimes known as ‘fermentation’ or ‘oxidation’.
Drying When the right amount of aeration has occurred, the leaf is dried in a dessicator or ‘firing chamber’ at 99-104˚C (210-220˚F) to prevent further chemical changes. This shrinks and darkens the leaf, resulting in the product known as black tea. This completes the actual manufacture
Grading The size of the leaf particles in your teapot bears no relation to quality per se, but it does affect the colour and strength of the brew. Manufactured tea is graded by leaf size using a mechanical sifter. ‘Leaf’ grades contain the largest pieces, ‘broken’ grades are successively smaller, while the smallest grades of all are known as ‘dust’. Larger grades tend to command higher auction prices.
Health Benefits of Ceylon Tea
Weight Loss Aid One of the best things about ceylon tea is its ability to stimulate the metabolism, making it a precious tool for those attempting to lose weight. By speeding up the metabolism, your body naturally burns fat faster, even if you don’t change other aspects of your lifestyle or workout regimen. This means that by giving your metabolism a morning boost with ceylon tea, you will have more energy for even more activities, which may further increase your calorie-burning efforts!
Immune System Booster Across the board, ceylon tea can help promote a healthier body, starting with the immune system. By improving the response time of the immune system to pathogens and foreign agents, ceylon tea can better prepare the body to fight off illness. Furthermore, the antioxidants found in ceylon tea generally reduce oxidative stress and the presence of free radicals within the body, which can help the immune system focus on the important things, like keeping you protected from infections!
Protect the Heart Ceylon tea possesses a measurable amount of potassium, which is a crucial element of heart health, since it functions as a vasodilator. This means that it relaxes the tension in blood vessels and arteries, allowing your blood pressure to decrease to normal, healthy levels and reduce the strain on your heart. A cup of ceylon tea to start each day, along with a potassium-rich fruit like bananas, can do wonders for your long-term heart health.
Increase Energy Sri Lanka used to be a major coffee-producing nation, but a lot of that infrastructure has shifted to making tea. However, ceylon tea and Sri Lankan coffee share an important characteristic – caffeine. By providing your body with a healthy dose of caffeine, this tea can boost your cognitive acuity and attention, and also pull you out of that morning energy slump. If you drink it at a regular pace, perhaps 2-3 cups over the course of the day, you’ll also avoid the terrible caffeine crash that you so often get from coffee.
Aid Skin Appearancer Some of the antioxidants that have been identified in ceylon tea are specifically linked to reducing collagen loss in the skin by preventing oxidative stress in the surrounding cells. Collagen is important for skin elasticity, namely preventing the appearance of wrinkles and keeping the skin taut and strong. By preventing oxidative stress in this way, you can prevent premature aging, eliminate those pesky wrinkles, and also promote healthier, blemish-free skin.
Eliminate Kidney Stones Research has connected the consumption of black tea to a decreased risk of developing kidney stones. This is believed to be connected to both the caffeine content and antioxidants present within this miraculously delicious and beneficial tea variety!
Regulate Diabetes Symptoms Drinking ceylon tea has been shown to reduce blood glucose levels, which is particularly important for people who suffer from diabetes. By helping to regulate the glucose and insulin levels in the body, ceylon tea can prevent the spikes and drops that can be so dangerous for those who struggle with diabetes.
Prevent Chronic Illness The impressive antioxidant range that ceylon tea possesses makes it a powerful aid to human health in many ways. Specifically, the theaflavins and thearubigins found in this tea are known to directly counteract the spread of cancer, and can prevent cellular mutation and oxidative stress. In order to prevent chronic disease, like cancer, ceylon tea can be a great line of defense to boost the responsiveness of your immune system.
Final Word of Warning Due to the notable content of caffeine found in this tea, it is not recommended that pregnant women consume it, as this can lead to complications in the pregnancy, not to mention the fact that most babies cannot process caffeine in utero. Furthermore, if you anxiety problems, adding caffeine to your diet isn’t always the best option. However, in low-caffeine doses (steeping for short periods of time), ceylon tea can help eliminate some of the other factors that may be causing your stress. As always, it is best to speak with your doctor before adding a new herbal treatment to your normal dietary or health regimen.