Global Tea Regions - Ceylon

Around the world with Tea

The tea of Sri Lanka, is known internationally by the archaic name for the Island – Ceylon. Sri lanka is a land of mild, subtropical climate and diverse vegetation. The most important tea-growing areas are located in the central highlands. Ceylon tea is divided into three categories:

  • Low grown tea that grows under 650 meters,
  • Medium grown tea that grows between 650 and 1300 meters, and
  • High grown tea that grows between 1300 and 2500 meters.

There are three tea districts in the central highlands around Adam’s Peak, Uva in the east, Dimbula in the west, and Nuwara-Eliya in between. Monsoon and Passat winds determine the periods of quality. In the Uva district, the best full flavoured, strong, tangy teas grow between June and September. They have a characteristic taste of winter green.  In the Dimbula district, the teas containing less tannin are harvested between December and March and have a softer, lighter cup than the Uva tea. In the Nuwara-Eliya district good-quality tea is harvested all year round. This tea tastes similar to that of Dimbula and has a typical light citrus bouquet. In the highlands more than 90% of tea production is processed as broken tea. For this reason, one finds excellent Ceylon broken tea quite often, but good Ceylon leaf tea less frequently.

According to legend, the Dutch introduced tea to Ceylon during their occupation of the island in the 17th century. However, the first documented information about tea states that tea began to take its place in Ceylon around 1824 when the British colonized the Island. A few tea plants from China were brought and grown at the newly established Royal Botanical Gardens at Peradeniya in 1839.

This was followed by the arrival of some Assam tea plants, which had been sent by the Botanical Gardens of Calcutta. In the years that followed, hundreds of tea plants were sent to Ceylon over the next few years. Some of them were sent to form the nursery at Peradeniya and the rest were sent to the highlands of Nuwara Eliya.

Coffee was the predominantly grown crop on the Island during this period. In 1869, a coffee leaf disease named “Hermilia Vastatrix”, commonly known as the “Coffee Rust” was detected. As the coffee crop diminished away, the planters soon realized that introducing tea as a crop could be the solution.

Planters in the early days purchased areas of jungle, clearing massive trees, burning off the undergrowth, making roads and building factories. Most of the first clearing work were done by trained elephants. James Taylor then set up the first “Tea” factory on the island. Taylor invented the first tea rolling machine in 1872 and after one year of work he sent twenty-three pounds of tea to Mincing Lane.

Taylor trained a number of assistants, which led Ceylon tea to be exported to London and Melbourne. That success led to the opening of the tea auction in Colombo. The first auction in Sri Lanka was held on 30th of July 1883 by Somerville and Company. Followed by the formation of the Colombo Tea Traders Association in 1894. Today, the Ceylon Tea auction happens to be the single largest tea auction in the world.


All teas grown in Sri Lanka are classified under 3 elevations of altitude.

Low Grown Tea factory situated up to 610 meters (2000 feet) from sea level.
60% of total national product of tea.
Tea- Heavy, Strong, Deep in color liquors.
Medium Grown Tea factory situated from 610-1200 meters (2000-4000 feet)
18% of total national product of tea.
Tea- A rich mellow taste and good color in liquor.
High Grown Tea factory situated over 1220 meters (4000 feet)
22% of total national product of tea.
Tea- Full bodied, rounded and refreshing, world renowned flavor.
Bright, golden color liquor.
Nuwara Eliya 1830 meters (6000 feet) above.
Delicate infusion, light and mellow with nice aroma.

                          Poonagala is the only estate which is spread though all three elevations.

Ceylon Tea has become the country’s mechanized  business, with Sri Lanka producing some of the most sought after teas in the world.