Ceylon, or Sri Lankan tea, has been in existence since around 1825, but commercially available from roughly 1865.
Ceylon tea is known for its complex character which is perfect for breakfast blends where it is often used to balance the strong maltiness of Assam teas. Ceylon teas are also graded so it is possible to tell the quality from the "tippiness" of the tea (or the amount of orange leaves and buds included in the tea).
Whilst Sri Lanka was previously a coffee producer, the industry was killed off by "coffee blight" leaving a hole in Sri Lankan exports. The Chamber of Commerce soon approved tea plantation and export which completely replaced the coffee industry in exports from Sri Lanka.
Read Behind the Blend next week for more information on black tea as we explore its fascinating history, cultivation and uses which make it interesting and popular.
Black teas can be cultivated anywhere in the world with many countries or regions having tea industry to a smaller or larger degree.
Black teas famously originate from China and India. Not only is the Cameila Sinensis plant from which all tea is cultivated indigenous to these regions, but the industry and processing methods used to create black teas also originated in these regions.
Amongst the most recognisable varieties are: Assam, Darjeelling and Nilgiri from India; Yunnan, Keemun, Lapsang and Pu Erh from China and Ceylon from Sri Lanka. Many of these types are named for the region in which they are grown, but some (like Lapsang) is names for the specific method used to infuse additional flavour to the leaves..
Black tea production is far from limited to these areas. Long, well-developed, successful and distinct industries are also present in Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda and even Hawaii.
The tea cultivation methods employed to grow and harvest leaves for use in Black tea processing are very similar to those for other tea types. Mature leaves are harvested by hand which allows for only fully ready leaves to be picked
Once picked, the leaves are withered and then bruised by either rolling or curling to shape and assist oxidisation. Once initiated, leaves are allowed to fully oxidise in order to develop the distinct black tea colour and flavours. At this stage smoke will be applied to Lapsang varieties in order to produce its distinct and unique flavour and broken or cut types will be broken down into smaller pieces.
Heat is then applied to stop the oxidisation process and also to remove all remaining water from the leaves. This is often an industrialised process that involves the use of large ovens to cope with the pure quantity of tea in need of drying asap to retain the finest flavour characteristics. The debris remaining after the whole and cut leaves (fannings and dust) are passed through the oven are collected and blended with other tea types to form the tea most often found in UK tea bags..
The oxidisation and drying method also acts as a preservative which is excellent for the transportation of the finished leaves around the world with minimal spoilage
Black teas come in a large variety of lengths, shapes, colours and flavours. However, all black tea types have specific properties for which they are specifically sought and / or cultivated. For example Darjeelings are expected to be vibrant, fresh with muscatel; whilst Assams are expected to be malty, spicy and aromatic.
Many black teas are “graded” which is a classification based on which part of the tea plant is included in the tea leaves. These grades are used to separate the best quality teas from the rest.
For the most part, teas with a high proportion of “tip” or “bud” visible as yellow or orange leaves throughout the tea are considered to be of superior quality. A tea with a high proportion of these buds is referred to as “tippy” and is the youngest leaf on the plant so often adds a fresh, vivacious note to the brewed cup.
In general, black teas are expected to be full-bodied, complex and aromatic; include whole, unbroken leaves and for the finer types, include a significant amount of tip.
At Tea Palace, we are extremely rigorous about product testing and sourcing only the finest quality loose leaf black teas. Our extensive sampling and testing process ensures that our range includes teas deemed to be of the highest possible quality.
Tea Palace does not source broken leaf teas. We are committed to promoting the luxury, quality and flavour of whole leaf and therefore we only accept whole leaf teas classified at the highest end of the grading scale. This applies throughout our range from single estate teas to those used in our blends.
Our black teas are selected to include key characteristics depending on the tea type and country of origin. In each case we will only add teas to our range that we feel demonstrate the finest characteristics of each tea type.
Finally, everything comes down to the flavour. A tea may have an excellent pedigree and leaf grade, but unless it is exceptional when brewed and enjoyed it would never be considered!.