The world of tea is a world of culture, traditions and tastes. The tea cultures in the world is divided into two different zones, each with its own preferred way to grow, prepare and enjoy tea.
The two zones have also developed various methods of cultivation and have organized tea cultivation differently. If we look at how the tea is grown, there are mainly the green tea-zone and the black tea-zone, each named after the colour of the favourite tea type. We could also call the green zone for the old tea producing countries and the black zone for the new. The division between the old and the newer tea-producing countries is still evident in the way industries are working in the tea-producing countries.
GREEN ZONE: In the green zone, we find China and Japan, which mainly produces green tea and always pursued as high a quality of raw materials as possible. Here the focus is on how plants grow, how much shade they should have, and when the right time for the harvest occurs. In these countries the tea has been grown as a culture plant for more than 1,000 years.
The quality of the individual producers tea harvest is evaluated when the factory receives the leaves, and the price per kilo is settled. For farmers it therefore makes sense to provide smaller quantities in high quality, and it is typical of the green zone’s tea production that leaves and top leaves are picked while they are quite small to obtain a higher tea quality.
BLACK ZONE: The black tea-zone consists mainly of the former British colonies, India, Sri Lanka and Kenya, which produces black tea and strive to provide a good product at a reasonable price. Here the tea is not an original cultural plant, but a crop introduced and cultivated systematically to supply the European market with tea.
It is typical of the tea growing in the former colonies that the leaves of the tea bush is allowed to develop for two to four days longer than in China and Japan. Usually this gives a stronger tea of lower quality. In black tea the raw material quality is harder to taste and not as clear as in green tea.
Some places in the black zone machines are entering into the production of tea to optimize quantity rather than the more gentle hand picking which increases quality if done properly.
A visionary Scotsman brought the tea to Sri Lanka
Scotsman James Taylor often gets the honour of being the man who introduced tea cultivation on a large scale in Sri Lanka. He imported tea plants from India, which at that time was a British colony, and planted them on his farm, Loolecondera, in 1867. The tea plants were very welcome in Sri Lanka, becausethe foreign landowners on Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, had in previous years tried with coffee production and had failed miserably. Coffee plants disappeared quickly in the decades ahead in favour of tea plants from India.
James Taylor worked with Thomas Lipton, whose name in Europe has since been almost identical to black tea in tea bags.
Tea plantations grew up in Sri Lanka’s fertile slopes in the latter half of the 1800s, and the successful export of tea to Europe began.
The first actual tea factory opened in Fairyland Estate in Nuwara Eliya in 1884 and was equipped with the newly developed machines to crush and dry tea in large quantities. Due to the growing tea production the railway network in Sri Lanka was expanded – not where people actually lived, but where the tea plants grew. This was done because the tea had to be transported to Colombo, where the main shipping port was and where the government controlled tea auctions opened in 1883.
Tea pickers from India
The tea production required a lot of labour. The labour the Brits procured the same place as the plants, namely in India. Plantation workers came in large numbers from the southern Indian province of Tamil Nadu. To this day, many of the plantation workers are descendants of Tamils from India. They are Hindus, unlike the majority of Sri Lanka’s population who are Buddhists.
Sri Lanka or Ceylon developed throughout the first half of 1900 to become the world’s largest producer and leading exporter of tea. This position the country kept since it became independent after the 2nd World War and later changed its name to Sri Lanka.
Only in recent times has Sri Lanka lost the leading role in the world market to another former British colony, Kenya, which today is the world’s largest tea exporter. Sri Lanka is today the fourth largest tea producer.
Tea economy and the vision of Chaplon
In Sri Lanka the price of tea is decided by the State and the local tea factories are paid per kilogram by the state tariffs. Most tea producers sell their tea to government rates, as they have no real alternatives and can not export without the tea auction in Colombo. In recent years, Sri Lanka’s tea production has been squeezed by falling world prices of tea due to increased production of new tea-producing countries in Asia like Vietnam.
When the price falls, the state does not want to raise prices for the raw tea leaves, which means that the Tamil tea-pickers who already lived in the bottom of society for many years, today is worse than ever.
The tea pickers can be forced to work for 200 rupees per day, equivalent to about 9 Danish kroner (1.20euro). On some plantations the daily rate for the tea workers are 500 rupees a day. This amount nobody can live on in Sri Lanka today, but the traditional tea production does not provide the economy for much more.
As a foreign company in Sri Lanka, Chaplon has the privilege of cultivating and exporting high quality independent of the state tariffs and the tea auction in Colombo. This opportunity we utilize to secure better conditions for the people whose labour we depend on to produce tea in Sri Lanka. This goes for the plantation workers who take care of the plants and picking the tea, and it goes for the workers who packages on our tea and our employees in our stores.
The tea districts of Sri Lanka
Although Sri Lanka is a relatively small island, there is great climatic variation due to differences in elevation. While it may be cool and temperate in the highlands, is the southern lowlands it is
typically tropical and high temperatures year round. This means that tea from different areas of the island also has different characteristics that are linked to habitat.
DIMBULLA range from 1,100 to 1,700 meters above sea level and was one of the first areas to be planted with tea plantations in the characteristic straight rows that follow the curves of the landscape. The tea from Dimbulla is varied in strength and flavour and it is probably what most people associate with a genuine ‘Ceylonese tea’ with an orange golden colour.
UDA PUSSELLAWA east of Nuwara Eliya is an area that is known for its high season teas, which are picked from July to September. The tea has a bright red golden colour and medium strength.
UVA The eastern slopes of Sri Lanka’s central mountains from 1,100 to 1,700 meters above sea are called Uva. From here comes some of the softest and most comfortable qualities of tea with the distinctive flavour notes which have made tea from Sri Lanka known worldwide.
RUHUNA The heat and burning sun and a special soil in southern tea district just 600 meters above the sea are the main factors for the dark and distinctive tea produced here. Ruhuna has a deep black colour and a particularly strong taste.
NUWARA ELIYA Nearly 200 meters above the Indian Ocean is the area which the British in their time lovingly referred to as ‘Little England’ and built with cozy houses that look as if they are taken directly from the south of England. The climate is cool, and the tea here is for the tea world what champagne is to wine. An elegant and light tea with characteristic notes of flowers, elegant spicy notes and a very soft and fine taste.
KANDY The area around Kandy, Ceylon/Sri Lanka’s ancient royal city and capital, is one of the oldest tea areas. Here on the slopes for up to approximately 1,000 meters you find high grown teas with a dark and deep flavour and a colour that is perfect to enjoy with milk afternoon beverage.
Chaplons plantations located in two of Sri Lanka’s best tea-districts, Nuwara Eliya and Uva. It is less land, located on the slopes and planted with large trees that provide shade and shelter from the sun to tebuskene.
A snapshot in green
It is an overwhelming experience of green to round a bend on a steep mountain road and drive in between the sprawling tea plantations fine straight rows of carefully trimmed tea bushes as far as the eye can see. The new tea buds light almost acid green in the morning sun in the highland of Sri Lanka, reaping some of the finest teas with a light, flowery taste.
We are heading to the Danish-owned tea plantation of Chaplon Tea Estate along winding and sometimes smashed roads. We are approaching the city Passara and drive past the spice scented and chaotic market and up a steep dirt road, where the plantation emerges like a small paradise of deep green shrubs overshadowed by large trees that lets the sun shimmer on the slope at 1,800 meters altitude.
On Chaplon Tea Estate, tea is grown after Japanese principles and without the use of pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.
The tea workers walk, as they have always done, on the steep slopes with a large wicker basket on his back, which they fill up with the top tender leaves from tea bush. Two leaves and a bud from each shot. Chaplon uses extraction of local plants and a deliberate use of compost spraying – which makes chemically produced pesticides and fertilizers redundant.
Leaves, twigs and weeds are composted carefully and extract from a local poison plant is prepared to keep pests away. The fertilizer is local and natural, and picking is done by hand.
Our cultivation principles
On Chaplon Tea Estates the earth is cultivated after sustainable and ecological principles.
In the plantation, the tea bushes are exposed to weather and wind and it offers, along with the special soil, the perfect conditions for high quality tea.
The plants are cut drastically and often, as is the tradition in Japan, the production methods are inspired by the Japanese tradition for tea growing. This means that the tea must grow as slowly as possible, and that the plants should be in partial shade, shielded from the blazing sun. The pruning of the bushes is different than what has traditionally been done in Sri Lanka. Our way of producing tea promotes more delicate little shots and fewer of the larger and coarser leaves.
Tea is a product that nature is best to prepare by itself. Therefore, fertilizers and pesticides has no place in our production.