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Ceylon Tea: The Story Behind the Brew

August 19, 2021

The taste and widespread availability of Ceylon tea has made it the household name that it is today.

Growing up in India, trips to neighboring Sri Lanka weren't uncommon. And, as a household of tea enthusiasts, we couldn't help but compare Ceylon and Indian tea. Thus, I have a fair amount of experience with this brew.

On this note, this post will cover what kind of tea Ceylon tea is and give you some insight into the interesting way that it is grown. Let's begin!

What Kind of Tea is Ceylon Tea?

Ceylon tea refers to the teas grown in Sri Lanka. The country was once known as Ceylon and the name for the teas produced in this region stuck, regardless. It is estimated that around 300,000 metric tons ar produced every year. Much of this exported to other countries.

One of the more interesting elements of Ceylon tea is the variety of tea plant from which it is grown. Now, you are probably aware that true teas are derived from the plant Camellia sinensis.

What most people don't realize though, are that there are three different varieties - var. sinensis, var. assamica, and var. lasiocalyx.

You will not often hear a gread deal about var. lasiocalyx as it is quite rare. However, 68 percent of the tea that is grown on the island belongs to this strain. Around 20 percent of the tea is Assamica. It isn't often that you will find varieties from Cina here.

Tea train Sri Lanka

The History of Ceylon Tea

While Sri Lanka is often synonymous with tea growing, it wasn't always as such. In fact, the country was first known for its coffee plantations. However, a fast spreading fungus ended this commodity, in the early 1800s, nearly causing financial ruin for British colonists.

However, there was a single Scottish planter - James Taylor - who had begun growing and processing tea leaves some time before the coffee blight. Now, he wasn't the first person to try. Others had attempted to plant Chinese tea in Ceylon with little success. Only Taylor's efforts were rewarded.

Soon, planters from all over the island visited Taylor's plantation to learn his secrets. This is what set the multi-generational industry into motion.

Ceylon Tea and Growing Regions

Yet another element that sets Ceylon tea apart is the manner in which the tea is grown. The tropical island weather lends itself to "microclimates" throughout the region. These microclimates can be discovered at various altitudes. The tea grown at each altitude is independent in both quality as well as taste.

The specific elevation, climate, soil type, and water quality of each place is collectively known as a terroir. Based on the terroir, the tea growing regions of Sri Lanka can be broken down into seven specific areas. These are Nuwara Eliya, Uda Pussellawa, Uva, Dimbula, Kandy, Sabaragamuwa, and Ruhuna.

At the lowest elevation, you have the low grown teas. Locally, they are referred to as the Pahata Rata teas. You will find these low grown tea estates in the plains and foothills, with the plants being grown at 2000 feet to sea level.

Then you have the middle grown teas. In this tea growing region, the teas are grown at between 2000 feet and 4000 feet. In fact, the first tea in the country was grown at this elevation, making these Medarata teas a classic blend.

Finally, there are the high grown teas or Uda Rata, where the teas are grown at an elevation of over 4000 feet. Now, this high grown tea is considered to be a more exclusive batch and you wll often find that they are priced higher as well.

Types of Ceylon Tea

Although Ceylon black tea is the most famous of them all, there is more than one type of tea grown in Sri Lanka. As other types of true teas have grown in popularity, it isn't unusual to find green tea, white tea, and oolong tea being produced on the island.

Of course, it should be noted that Ceylon green tea doesn't have the same flavor and attributes as Chinese tea. Due to this, it is considered to be of a lower quality, but is still enjoyable.

cup of black ceylon tea

What Does Ceylon Tea Taste Like?

No two Ceylon teas will taste alike. The flavor of Sri Lankan tea is dictated by where and how the tea is grown as well as how it is produced. As such, each batch of black tea will have its own distinct aroma and flavor.

Lower Level Tea

Lower level teas are full bodied, richy, and hearty. They have a darker color and work well with milk and sugar. Now, while these type of tea certainly has its fans, it isn't necessarily considered to be the highest grade. Therefore, you will often find cheaper blends with these tea leaves.

Mid Level Tea

On the other hand, the mid level Ceylon teas have a citrus tang, complete with hints of fruity notes. It also tends to be rather full bodied, although many will describe it as mellow.

High Level Tea

Finally, there is the high level tea that is quite similar to the Darjeeling blend. Here, the flavor is delicate and fresh, almost sweet. There are often some floral notes as well. It is best to consume this tea plain, to enjoy the complex components.

Is Ceylon Tea the Best?

Well, it is a little tricky to make this distinction. After all, the location of where the Ceylon teas are grown can make an impact on the grade. Not to mention, there are numerous tea estates growing and producing Ceylon black tea. Brand standards can also alter the kind of Sri Lankan tea that you end up drinking.

It would be more accurate to stay that some of the tea produced in the country can be considered to be one of the best in the world. In most cases, you would have to pay more to enjoy the most exclusive tea leaves that the nation has to offer.

Is Ceylon Tea High in Caffeine?

It is difficult to know exactly how much caffeine is in your cup of Ceylon tea. This is because all kinds of factors can determine just how much caffeine a particular type or batch of Ceylon black tea can have. On average, though, you can expect 50 to 90mg of caffeine per cup.

This is more caffeine that lighter types such as green tea, but not as much as coffee. You should be aware that your brewing method can also change how much caffeine is added to your cup.

Therefore, there is always a chance that you may end up with a brew that is almost as strong as java.

Health Benefits of Ceylon Tea

Ceylon black tea does have numerous health benefits associated with it. Here are the ones that you should know about:

Contains Antioxidants

All black teas do have some antioxidants. Ceylon black tea, in particular though, contains certain other elements. These antioxidants include Quercetin, Myricetin, and Kaempferol. The main health benefits of these is that they can prevent cell damage in the body.

In turn, this can reduce the risk of inflammation as well as a wide variety of degenerative diseases. Thus, drinking Ceylon black tea regularly can help to boost your health in general, ensuring that you enjoy various benefits.

tea plantation in sri lanka

Potential Decreased Risk of Cancer

Ceylon black tea is also known for its composition of polyphenols such as flavonoids, catechins, and tannins. These are often related to activities such as apotosis and binding withcarcinogens to make them less effective.

These compounds also have an anti-angiogenesis effect which can prevent nutrients from being provided to a tumor, thus starving it. It is possible that the healthy components of Ceylon black tea may be able to ensure that only cancerous cells are targeted and destroyed.

Of course, Ceylon tea alone isn't going to prevent or treat cancer. Nevertheless, it can be an important tool against your battle of this destructive disease.

May Lower Risk of Diabetes

Yes, a regular consumption of Ceylon black tea may help to prevent diabetes. One study showed that black tea was capable of stabilizing blood sugar levels. This result was seen both with people daignosed with pre-diabetes as well as healthy individuals.

There was also evidence to show that frequent tea consumption could lower the risk of type 2 diabetes in particular. While there does need to be more research done on this topic, it certainly is a silver lining for many people.

Could Boost Heart Health

Yes, Ceylon black tea can have numerous benefits for your heart. One research study found that people who drank black tea regularly were able to discern a lowering of their LDL cholesterol levels as well as a lower triglyceride level.

All of this could mean that there will be less chance of fatty deposits lining arteries or blood vessels of the heart. In turn, this could prevent numerous issues such as heart attacks and strokes.

And, in general, black tea lowered the risk of coronary heart disease across the board. This advantage was noted when participants drank about three cups of tea a day. Needless to say, the tea will not completely elimiate the risks associated with an unhealthy diet and lifestyle, however.

May Assist with Weight Loss

It is possible that black tea may help you to lose weight. Certain polyphenols in black tea can block some absorption of fats in your diet. In doing so, these compounds may be able to lower your calorie intake, thus making it easier for you to burn calories.

At the same time, Ceylon black tea contains caffeine. This could provide you with energy that allows you to exercise more effectively and for a longer period of time. Naturally, this will allow you to lose weight at a much faster rate.

Side Effects of Ceylon Tea

Despite the many benefits of Ceylon Tea, it is important to enjoy the drink in moderation. This is largely due to the caffeine content. If you consume too much, there can be side effects.

These can include irritability, an increase in anxiety, and jitteriness. At the same time, you may find it more difficult to sleep or to get as much sleep as you need.

How to Brew Ceylon Tea

Here are the guidelines to make the perfect cup of Ceylon tea:

For each cup of 8 ounces of water, you can add about 2 grams of tea leaves. Or, you can use one tea bag.

If you prefer a stronger brew, simply increase the quantity of tea leaves or tea bags - don't allow the tea to steep for longer than necessary.

Heat water until it is boiling and then pour into a cup with the tea leaves or tea bag. Allow to steep for 3 to 5 minutes and remove the leaves or bag. Add milk and sugar or a twist of lemon.

This is what you need to know about Ceylon tea including its origins, how it is grown, and more!

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About the Author
Dr. Dheena Sadik
Dr. Dheena Sadik is a consultant Nutritionist and Dietician. She has over a decade of experience in the health and fitness industry.
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