JUser: :_load: Unable to load user with ID: 108
Early European explorers found the region sparsely inhabited except along the south-western coast, the population of the interior having dwindled through centuries of wars and epidemics. Much of the land had reverted to wilderness. Little changed during the colonial era, and even after independence Ruhuna remained thinly populated and backward, a source of economic migrants to Colombo and the Western Province. In recent years, however, a great deal of attention has been focused on development and economic revival in the region, particularly around the coastal town of Hambantota and the ancient port city of Galle. The latter was of great importance before the construction of a breakwater in 1885 created a sheltered anchorage in Colombo, and was well served by road, rail and telegraph, but grew quiet and sleepy during the twentieth century.
During the early 1970s, political and economic changes in the Middle East resulted in a greatly increased market for the strong, full-flavoured black teas that are a Ruhuna speciality. This resulted in a boom, the effects of which have lasted more or less until the present day. Ruhuna is now, along with Sabaragamuwa, one of the key tea-producing districts of Sri Lanka, producing its own characterful varieties. Between them, the two provinces account for around 60% of the total production of the island.
Tasters’ Notes for Ruhuna Tea
RUHUNA - “Distinctively unique”
The teas of the Ruhuna district are defined as “low-grown” as they are cultivated at an altitude not exceeding 600m (2000 Ft) comprising vast sub regions from coastal plains to Southern edge of Sinharaja Rain Forest. The soil, combined with the low elevation of the estates, causes the tea-bush to grow rapidly, producing a long, beautiful leaf. Full-flavoured black tea is a distinctively unique Ruhuna speciality. Ruhuna factories produce a wide variety of leaf styles and sizes, including prized “tips”.
Other upper Sabaragamuwa estates receive some weather from the nearby Uva climatic system, which affects the character of the tea they produce in an entirely different way.
The Sabaragamuwa tea-growing district covers most of the western and south-western faces of the central mountains of Sri Lanka. The terrain is hilly, with numerous small valleys cut into the hillsides by streams and rivers draining the upper massif. Copiously watered by the southwest monsoon, it features climatic conditions typical of tropical rainforest: hot and humid in the open, moist and cool where tree cover is thick. Despite being thickly populated, it remains a green and pleasant land, rich in natural beauty. The most famous of its many places of interest is Adam’s Peak or Sri Pada, a 2,200m (7,000ft) mountain peak, conical and symmetrical, at the summit of which a giant, intricately-decorated and detailed footprint has been carved into the rock. Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims all venerate this relic, whose origins are lost in the mists of antiquity. Adam’s Peak has been a place of pilgrimage and visitation for longer than anyone can remember, even though the climb is steep and was formerly very dangerous.
Adam’s Peak is only the most prominent attraction of a land rich in history and legend. Indeed, the earliest traces of human settlement in Sri Lanka, dating back 34,000 years or more, were found not far from Ratnapura. Various legends relating to the ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana, have been attached to places in Sabaragamuwa; the region also has a number of important associations in history and folklore and was the scene of much warfare and intrigue during the Portuguese period (1505-1658). Tea from the estates of Sabaragamuwa seems to distil the essence of this rich and varied culture, belying the district’s twentieth-century rise to prominence in the industry.
Tasters’ Notes for Sabaragamuwa Tea
SABARAGAMUWA -“Exceptionally stylish”
Sabaragamuwa is Sri Lanka’s biggest district, the teas of which are low-grown as its estates range in elevation from sea level to 610m (2000 Ft). Sabaragamuwa, sandwishd between Sinharaja in the south and Adam's Peak wilderness in the north, produces a fast-growing bush with a long leaf. The liquor, too, is similar to that of Ruhuna teas, dark yellow-brown with a reddish tint. The aroma, however, is noticeably different from the Ruhuna product, with a hint of sweet caramel, not quite as strong: yet exceptionally stylish.
Its isolation ended with the coming of tea in the 1870s. Dimbula was, in fact, one of the earliest districts to be planted in the new crop. The teas of the district were found to produce a distinctive flavour of their own, one that lovers of fine tea prize to this day. This happy discovery brought settlement and commerce to the formerly uninhabited region, though Dimbula and its sub-districts remain wild and thinly populated to this day. Most local residents are plantation workers and their families; the remainder also tend to be occupied in work that serves the plantation industry in other ways, such as supply and transport.
Dimbula teas are characterized as ‘high-grown’; the regional definition specifies an elevation of between 1,100m and 1,600m (3,500-5,000ft.), but in practice the region’s estates all stand at an altitude of over 1,250m (4,000ft.) It is wet and misty for much of the year, and western-facing estates are drenched by the southwest monsoon between May and September; however, Dimbula also benefits from the cool, dry winds of the western ‘quality season’, a period that begins around the turn of the year and continues until March or early April. Dimbula estates yield their best teas during this season, when the air is crisp and cool by day while the nights are cold and windy.
Tasters’ Notes for Dimbula Tea
DIMBULA -“Refreshingly mellow”
Between Nuwara Eliya and Horton Plains lies the district of Dimbula, whose teas are defined as “high grown” as all estates exceed an altitude of 1,250m (4000 Feet). The complex topography of the region produces a variety of microclimates, which produce differences in flavour – sometimes jasmine mixed with cypress. All, however, share the Dimbula character: a tea that produces a fine golden-orange hue in the cup, and which is refreshingly mellow.
Despite this obscure history, it was not until the coming of the plantation enterprise in the nineteenth century that the region truly began waking to life. For early Uva planters, Nuwara Eliya could only be reached by a long ride over dangerous roads and bridle-paths; so they foregathered at Badulla instead, accelerating the civic and commercial development of the town in the process.
Even then, it was a quiet, rather sleepy province. Uva was not particularly good for coffee, and due to its remoteness, it was one of the last parts of the country to be brought under the crop. Only with the coming of tea was the district’s full potential realized, for the hills and winds of Uva impart a special, unmistakable character and flavour to the tea that grows there, one that is highly prized by trade and connoisseur alike.
Experts ascribe this unique character largely to the Uva climate. The region is exposed to the winds of both the northeast and southwest monsoon systems, but the weather is relatively dry, particularly during the ‘quality season’. The climatic balance in each slope and valley is governed by its orientation and exposure; the mountains are cleft by deep passes or ‘gaps’, such as Ohiya and Idalgashinna, which funnel the monsoon through them; but at this altitude the winds are usually dry, having shed their moisture on the hills below. In these parts, a change of weather lasting a few days can have a noticeable impact on the crop – easy enough to discern since tea here, like elsewhere in Sri Lanka, is picked all year round. The effect is most marked during the eastern ‘quality season’ from July to September – the period of the southwest monsoon.
Tasters’ Notes for Uva Tea
UVA - “Exotically aromatic”
The remote Uva district is exposed to the winds of both northeast and southwest monsoons, believed to endow the tea produced here with a special, unmistakable character and exotically aromatic flavour. It was with tea grown on his Uva estates that Thomas Lipton, the Victorian magnate, persuaded Americans to drink tea. The mellow, smooth taste of Uva tea, once experienced, is easily distinguished.
Uda Pussellawa estates thus enjoy not one but two ‘quality seasons’, the western as well as the eastern. This is especially the case with teas from the upper part of the district, bordering Nuwara Eliya (which lies immediately to the west), though elevations in Uda Pussellawa are somewhat lower than they are in Nuwara Eliya, ranging from 950m to 1,600m (3,000-5,000ft).
Tasters’ Notes for Uda Pussellawa Tea
UDA PUSSELLAWA- “Exquisitely tangy”
The Uda Pussellawa district is situated close to Nuwara Eliya, so its tea is often compared to that of its neighbour. But it is darker in the cup, with a pinkish hue, of greater strength, and exquisitely tangy. Colder conditions at year end supposedly add a hint of rose to the bouquet of a tea known for its medium body and subtle character. Heavy rainfall, though, tends to produce tea that is even darker and stronger-flavoured.
Historically speaking, Nuwara Eliya is a relatively new place. The town from which the district takes its name sits perched on a plateau 1,868 m (6,128 ft) above sea level, under the shadow of Sri Lanka’s highest mountain, Pidurutalagala. Almost inaccessible in olden times due to the precipitous, jungle-clad terrain surrounding it, this scenic plateau was effectively uninhabited when it was discovered by an English explorer in 1818. Impressed by its magnificent scenery and climate, Sir Edward Barnes, the British governor of the time, resolved to turn the locale into the similar of Ceylon, a fashionable hill-station to which the government and society of the capital, Colombo, could repair during the hottest and unhealthiest months of the year. He accomplished this by the simple expedient of building a house there himself (it is now the Grand Hotel) and occupying it every year between March and April. ‘Newralia’ thus became, for a few weeks every year, the capital of colonial Ceylon.
In the early 1840s, a boom in Ceylon coffee saw the rapid conversion into plantations of parts of the hill country barely explored by Europeans until then. The pioneers who carved out these remote estates south and east of Kandy were lonely men who endured lives of some hardship; in the vale of Nuwara Eliya they found a salubrious and centrally-located place of meeting and recreation. The town that sprang up to serve their needs was a largely womanless place at first, shaped by the interests of the men who frequented it. Clubs and watering-holes proliferated, sporting tournaments and ‘shoots’ were regular events, but domestic and civic conditions were primitive.
Later, as the boom progressed, wealth and the civilized comforts it brought changed the character of Nuwara Eliya. By the beginning of the tea era, it had become a genteel, somewhat pretentious little town, self-consciously English in character. For most of the British period it remained a largely European enclave, and a few Nuwara Eliya clubs even went so far as to maintain whites-only membership policies for some years after Independence.
But Nuwara Eliya was always a bit too high up in the hills for coffee, and the frequent rains often damaged the crops. The discrict only found its métier after the great blight of the 1870s and ’80s had wiped out the coffee industry and Ceylon planters turned to tea. Desultory experiments with the new crop in earlier times had already shown it could be successfully cultivated there; now, it rapidly became clear that Nuwara Eliya offered an almost perfect climate for tea. By 1875, the first modest plantations were already flourishing, and by the end of the century, Nuwara Eliya was one of the principal tea-growing districts of Ceylon. It was generally acknowledged to produce some of the finest teas in the world – a reputation it has retained ever since.
Tasters’ Notes for Nuwara Eliya tea
NUWARA ELIYA - “Delicately fragrant”
Nuwara Eliya, the best-known of Sri Lanka’s tea-growing districts, is the most mountainous, and has the highest average elevation. Combined with low temperature, this produces teas of exquisite bouquet. The infusion in the cup is the lightest (palest) of all the types of Ceylon Tea, with a golden hue and a delicately fragrant flavour. Sought after grades include whole-leaf Orange Pekoe (OP) and Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP).
Kandy, then, is the tea-growing district where it all began. Formerly the last redoubt of the Sinhalese kings, it is accessible only via steep mountain passes, which created a formidable obstacle to invasion in the days when there were no roads and the hillsides were covered in thick forest. Such inaccessibility helped the kings of Kandy resist foreign invaders for more than three hundred years. In its temples and monastic libraries, its arts and crafts and folkways, Kandy preserved for centuries the cultural traditions of the Sinhalese people. It was also an important centre of Buddhism: the Buddha’s teachings were first put into writing at Aluvihare near Matale, and the holiest relic of the faith, a tooth reputed to be that of the Master himself, was preserved in a golden casket at a temple in the capital. Its possession is said to grant legitimacy to the rulers of Lanka, so when the kingdom of Kandy passed into the hands of the British in 1815, the latter were careful to protect the sacred tooth and continue the rituals, such as the famous perahera, associated with it. They continue to this day.
The fall of Kandy opened up the whole of Sri Lanka’s hill country to the British. The capital of the kingdom, which they also named Kandy, soon became the metropolis of the region. When the coffee enterprise began soon after, it was natural that the first estates should be established in close proximity to this ‘hill capital’ – and the recently-established botanical gardens and research centre at Peradeniya. The same went for tea: Loolecondera, like all the early tea estates, was originally a coffee plantation, though far from being the first.
The Kandy tea-growing district forms part of the Central Province of Sri Lanka. Though its capital nestles in a relatively low-lying valley, the estates themselves are dotted about the surrounding hills – in Nilambe, Hantane, Pussellawa, Gampola and, of course, Hewaheta. They are not as high up as those in the southern part of the central massif, so the tea of the Kandy region is described as ‘mid-grown’, the altitude of cultivation ranging between 650m and 1,300m (2,000-4,000ft).
The local weather is influenced largely by the southwest monsoon system, the winds blowing in force up the mountain passes, though Kandy itself is relatively sheltered. Many of the estates, too, are clustered in valleys where the wind is less fierce, and the tea they produce are stronger and deeper-coloured than the rest of the region’s produce.
Tasters’ Notes for Kandy Tea
KANDY -“Intensely full-bodied”
In the Kandy district, where the industry began in 1867, the teas produced are described as “mid-grown”as cultivation does not exceed 1,300m(4000 Feet). They range in flavour depending on the altitude and whether the plantation is sheltered from monsoon winds. All are particularly flavoursome. Kandy teas produce a bright infusion with a coppery tone, and are strong and intensely full-bodied.
Kandy teas tend to produce a relatively bright infusion with a coppery tone. Though lighter in the cup, they present a good deal of strength and body, though not as much as the lower-grown products of Sabaragamuwa and Ruhuna. Most Kandy-district estates lie on the western slopes of the hills, so their taste is influenced by the ‘western quality season’, meaning that the best tea is produced during the first quarter of the year, when cool, dry weather sets in across the district.