Our BeauTEAful Sri Lankan Journey

If you haven’t already noticed here at Adore Tea we are pretty obsessed with tea, so much so we have even been described as “tea snobs” in the best possible way! Our passion and enthusiasm sees us travel the world in order to discover the best tea the world has to offer to bring back and share with our loyal customers/fellow tea aficionados. Our latest journey took us to Sri Lanka in search of the perfect Ceylon tea . . .

The beautiful country of Sri Lanka located approximately 88km off the southern tip of India is one of the world’s leading tea exporters and third largest tea producer. It was here at a tea factory in Akuressa (in the southern region of Sri Lanka) that our journey began.

Firstly we were invited to visit a local family owned and run “nursery” that has been in operation for over 17 years! The role of the nursery is to foster young tea plants to sell to tea plantations. Clippings are taken from the mother plant and planted in soil bags, they are stored in the shade and watered with spring water twice a day for three months at which point they are ready to be planted in the fields.

The tea fields themselves are entirely organic. All weeds are removed by hand, clippings are used as compost and other plants are used to combat soil erosion. If a tea plant reaches the end of its life span (approx. 25 years), it is removed from the ground and lemongrass is planted and grown for 1.5 years before a new tea tree is planted. The lemongrass is used to naturally return nitrogen to the soil ensuring rich, healthy soil for the next tea crop.

Now for one of the absolute highlights of the trip . . . tea plucking. All plucking is done by hand! It is an incredibly skilled job and only the leaves that are “ready” get plucked. This is judged entirely by eye and expertise. Ceylon tea is always picked as a “flush” meaning just the top two leaves and a bud are picked, and the plucking is repeated every 7 to 14 days throughout the year. Whilst we were in the area we visited a few different tea plantations and were astounded by just how much tea these workers were HAND PICKING per day. Here are just a few examples;

1.       Small acreage, single worker. The worker owns her own land with approx. 1 acre of tea plants. She runs the farm on her own working 5 days a week. She is plucking about 300kg of tea leaves each month. At the end of every day, a tuk tuk picks up her plucked leaves and takes them to the factory where it is weighed.

2.        Small acreage, several workers.  A 2nd farmer owns approx. 4 acres. He has 3 workers that pluck for him every day. In an 8 hour day each worker is harvesting approx. 35kgs of leaves

Some farmers just have small areas where they have planted whatever they can. A wife might plant a small amount that she plucks or works in 2 days a week and it will be enough to bring in some extra income.

The factory has drivers that pick up from some areas or farms each day. They are picking up approximately 4200kgs per day from almost 1000 farmers!

Getting to the pointy end of business now  . . . we can smell the tea brewing! The freshly plucked tea leaves are whisked away to the main tea factory where they are quality checked and laid out on long drying racks where a low flow of warm air is passed through them; this process is referred to as withering and takes approximately 15 hours. From this point the leaves are “rolled, oxidised and fired” before finally being sorted. At this particular factory there is a large state of the art machine that sorts and separates large OP1 leaves from BOP leaves as well as separating stems, black leaves, brown leaves and golden tips. Previously tea was HAND SORTED!! It is a spectacular process to witness.  From here there is nothing left to do but drink. That’s right the whole process from freshly plucked leaf to drinkable cup of tea only takes about 24hrs!!

At this point we would like to share a little more information about the tea factory itself and the wonderful people we met along the way. The tea factory we have partnered with has been in the Wanigasekara family for 70 years. Gunasomas grandfather used to own many acres of tea fields until about 50 years ago when the Sri Lankan government ordered that each person could only hold a maximum of 50 acres. The government “compensated” farmers as they bought back their land. Now the tea factory sources its tea leaves from other local farmers who own and run their own plantations. The relationship between the farmers is like one big family. The farmers are well respected and they all rely on each other to create a successful and sustainable community and business. 

The hospitality of the locals was astounding not once did we ever find ourselves without tea in hand or a meal on the table and all presented with a great sense of love and pride. It was unsurprising to find that the tea is treated with the same love and care from the wonderful workers as we were, yet another reason why Sri Lanka leads the pack in production of really top quality Ceylon tea. We are very proud to be releasing our selection of Ceylon teas to you our fellow tea nerds and would highly recommend that you visit the incredible tea plantations in Sri Lanka to experience this incredible community yourselves.

Ceylon tea comes from the island of Sri Lanka which lies 88km off the southern tip of neighbouring India. Its tropical climate and rich soil create the perfect conditions for cultivating tea. Despite its small size Sri Lanka is one of the world’s leading tea exporters and the third largest tea producer, behind China and India. Ceylon tea is always plucked as a flush (top two leaves and a bud) judged by highly skilled workers and picked by hand. Ensuring only the best quality leaves make it to your cup! All five of our new Ceylon teas are imported directly from the Tea Factory, in the southern region of Sri Lanka.

CEYLON GOLD (OPA)

This is a high grade Ceylon that produces a refreshing liquor that is light in colour and mild in flavour. In terms of grading OPA denotes a bold, long tea leaf which ranges from tightly wound to almost open.

CEYLON ORANGE PEKOE (OP1)

It has long skinny leaves that result in a golden liquor with a full bodied yet slightly sweet taste. The OP1 grading denotes a slightly delicate, long, wiry leaf with the light liquor.

BREAKFAST CEYLON (OPX)

This Ceylon features large whole leaves that create a hearty and full bodied feel on the palette. The grading of OPX indicates the tea leaves fall somewhere between an OP1 and OPA Ceylon.

CEYLON BOP1

The Ceylon BOP1 is a stronger style brew that still delivers a sweet, dry and smooth palette. The BOP1 grading indicates this tea is similar to the OP1 but with a shorter “broken leaf”. The tea leaves are generally around half the length of the OP1.

GRAND CEYLON (BOP1X)

This Ceylon has a slightly oaky aroma and has a strong initial taste that doesn’t linger. In general an “X” indicates a higher quality of a particular grade so in this case the BOP1X is a higher grade of the BOP1 Ceylon. 

The tea factory we deal with is a certified participant in the Ethical Tea Partnership programme. What does this mean? Well, the tea factory works with the internationally recognised ETP to ensure continuous improvement of the welfare and working conditions of its workers, as well as on environmental sustainability. Adore Tea is proud to support organisations that work to ensure a socially just and environmentally sustainable tea industry. This is just one of the many wonderful reasons we have chosen to directly import of five new Ceylon teas! You can find out more about the Ethical Tea Partnership at their website: http://www.ethicalteapartnership.org/

In 1987 in response to the vanishing ozone layer, 191 countries (including Sri Lanka and Australia) signed an environmental protection agreement dubbed “The Montreal Protocol”. It features a mandatory timetable for the phase out of ozone depleting substances. One such substance is Methyl Bromide which, at the time was used widely in the Sri Lankan tea industry as a pesticide to fumigate soil and agricultural products. Under the protocol the use of Methyl Bromide in Sri Lanka was reduced and then done away with all together. As a result of this direct action Sri Lanka was named a leader in ozone layer protection, receiving the Montreal Protocol Implementers Award in 2007. Now all tea grown in Sri Lanka is 100% ozone friendly – a distinction no other tea producing nation can boast. To learn more about the relationship between the ozone layer and the tea industry visit; http://www.pureceylontea.com/index.php/features/ceylon-tea-and-the-environment/ozone-friendly-story