A journey to India's tea growing neighbors - Nepal and Sri Lanka
While India is one of the top tea producers in the world, with well-known teas in the likes of Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiri tea, its neighbors are also no less! Let us take a journey to Nepal and Sri Lanka to see how their tea plantations are and what their teas taste like. India, Nepal and Sri Lanka have historically had amicable relations and are geographically very close to each other.
Sri Lanka is a tropical island country located in the Indian Ocean which is known for its rich cultural heritage, tourist spots, beautiful beaches and its rolling tea plantations.
History of Sri Lankan or Ceylon tea
Sri Lankan tea or Ceylon tea as it is better known, has been home to some of the worlds most popular tea. The story began with James Taylor who was a Scottish tea planter, arrived in Sri lanka, then known as Ceylon in 1852 and settled down at the Loolecondera Estate, Galaha. He began a 19-acre tea plantation on the Loolecondera Estate in 1867, and worked with Scottish merchant Thomas Lipton to develop the tea industry in British Ceylon, laying the foundation of the Sri Lankan tea industry which later went on to become Sri Lanka’s largest export industry for over a century. Thus In 1872, a fully equipped tea factory began operating on the Loolecondera Estate and then in 1873, Ceylon Tea made its international debut when twenty-three pounds of tea produced by James Taylor was sent to London.
What are the tea regions and plantations in Sri Lanka?
There are seven main tea growing regions/plantations in Sri Lanka and they are all located mainly in the southern and south-western region of the country. The seven regions are as follows:
1. Nuwara Eliya – Tea is grown on the beautiful mountains of Nuwara Eliya. Since these teas are grown in the mountains, the plantations are at an elevation of almost 6000 ft above sea level. The tea from this region is wonderfully light and refined and perfect for a tea connoisseur.
2. Uda Pussellawa – This region experiences rain twice a year which makes the tea leaves full bodied and tangy.
3. Dimbula – In Dimbula, teas are grown between 5000-6000 ft above sea level. This region has showers once a year and also experiences a much cooler and drier climate. This dichotomy of climate dictates the tea produced here. This tea has a reddish, golden-orange color, tastes refreshingly mellow and is probably the most famous Ceylon tea.
4. Uva – The climate in this region makes Uva tea highly prized. The Uva region is exposed to both the annual southwest and the northeast monsoon showers. The high and fast winds which accompany these showers however make this region bereft of moisture and this makes the tea leaves dry and this characteristic dryness provides a concentrated aroma and an exotic taste.
5. Kandy – This tea is grown at an elevation of 2000 to 4000 ft above sea level and has a strong taste. This tea is full-bodied, robust and perfect.
6. Ruhuna – Compared to the rest of the tea growing regions, this region is at a lower elevation and produces a dry tea leaf with a dark reddish black hue which lends itself to a scarlet colored, full bodied black tea.
7. Sabaragamuwa – This region is in the extreme South and experiences a tropical, hot climate with regular showers. This region produces dark tea leaves which translate into a full bodied, strong cup of tea.
Nepal is geographically close to India and they share a border on India’s northern extremities. It is a landlocked country and is situated mainly in the Himalayas and thus has picturesque mountain ranges and beautiful scenery.
History of Nepal tea
The history of tea in Nepal dates back to British colonisation just like Sri Lanka and India which was under British rule and influence of the East India Company. Around 10 years after the first tea plantation was set up in Darjeeling by the East India company, hybrids of tea bushes were brought and set up in Nepal, and thus started Nepals first tea plantation. This plantation is Ilam Tea Estate which was set up in Ilam district, at an altitude of 4,500-5,000 feet above sea level. Two years later a second tea plantation, Soktim Tea Estate was set up in the Jhapa district because the people saw a fulfilling prospect when it came to the tea industry. Later into the 1900s the Nepalese tea producers acted as suppliers to Darjeeling factories when tea bushes became old and yields decreased.
What are the regions and types of Nepal Tea?
Nepal tea is cultivated at a higher elevation in the mountainous terrain of the region. The higher altitude sets Nepali tea apart from most of the other teas. Two types of tea are produced in Nepal – the CTC tea and the Orthodox tea – these types are based on the way the tea leaves are processed. The more common type is the orthodox tea which comes mostly from the Eastern mountainous regions and grown at altitudes of 3000 to 7000 ft above sea level. This region encapsulates six main districts which are known for its Orthodox tea production, namely - Ilam, Dhankuta, Kaski, Terhathum, Sindhulpalchok, and Panchthar. These districts are filled with multiple medium to large scale tea estates along with a large number of small independent cultivators. In Nepal, once the tea plant is mature, its leaves can be harvested four times a year. Depending on the timings of these four harvests, Nepal produces the four different flushes of tea namely first flush, second flush, monsoon flush, and autumn flush.The first flush harvest starts at the end of March and lasts about a month. The leaves are at their most tender and delicate during this time of the year and the liquor is a light yellow-green color, with a delicate taste and subtle aroma. This first flush is usually the costliest, not only for its fine flavor, but also because it is produced in much smaller quantities compared to the others. The second flush starts in the middle of May and lasts for a couple of months. The leaves become stronger and some experts rate this as the best tea. The monsoon flush is harvested straight after the second flush at the end of July until the end of September. This tea is more intense and darker compared to the ones before and makes a fuller bodied tea due to the heavy rain in the regions. Lastly, there is the autumn flush that begins in October and lasts till the end of November. This tea tends to be tangy and has a musky smell. Silver tips tea is another type which refers to tea made from the smallest, top leaf of the shoot. A delicate tasting tea, this tea fetches the highest price.The second type of tea is the CTC tea (CTC stands for crush, tear, curl) which refers to the method of processing the tea leaves and is produced in lower altitudes, in the plains of Nepal, mainly in Jhapa district. The quality of Nepal’s CTC tea tends to be average and is mostly consumed domestically (95% of domestic tea consumption in Nepal is CTC tea).
Hence, just like India, its neighbors also produce some fine varieties of tea and have lush green tea plantations.
Which country in the world is your favorite when it comes to tea?
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