The principal production of Tea in Ceylon (Sri Lanka, but the tea is referred to as Ceylon) is of black or fully oxidized Tea. It is produced throughout the year, but the finest pluckings are in February and March, and again in August and September. The larger yield, though lower in quality, occurs during April, May, and June and again in October, November and December. In January the quality drops dramatically.
Ceylon Teas are divided into high, medium, and low grown. Of these, the high grown are of the very best quality and when coupled with the specific times of year (above paragraph) they can be stunning. Low to medium grown Ceylons, in my opinion, have no particular distinction as far as leaf style is concerned but they do show (dependent upon leaf grade) good cup strength and color. The high grown leaf picked at peak times of the year also have these characteristics but there is much more delicacy in their flavor. Some central highland Teas are exceptionally delicious but, since they grow at around 7,000 feet, they are also rare. The mid-country Teas usually have a well made leaf with useful commercial value. The low grown teas have a good leaf which can be well rolled with good twist. These generally produce a strong but very plain or common cup. They are in great demand as filler teas for blending.
Certain districts within Ceylon, such as Kegalla and the low country teas, are known to yield these plain or common Teas; others, such as Nuwara Eliya and Dimbula can be depended upon for very fine Teas although expensive (but well worth it).
A small amount, relative to total production, of green Tea is manufactured in Ceylon, but it will probably never compete with China or Japan green tea because of its somewhat bitter flavor in the cup.
The Grading of Ceylon Tea
The grade names which follow are an indication of size and/or appearance of Ceylon Teas and not of its quality. The Tea Research Institute of Ceylon points out that there is a lack of uniformity in the market grades today which makes it difficult to describe them with any accuracy. Briefly, however, Ceylon teas are divided into two groups: (1) the Leaf grades such as were originally made by the Ceylon pioneers, and (2) the smaller Broken grades which are in style today.
Leaf grades are usually divided into:
Broken grades are divided into:
The grades may be described as follows:
In addition, there are various Flowery variants of the main grades (e.g., F.O.P and F.B.O.P.) the nature of which I will describe slightly farther down.
Only a small quantity of the Leaf and Flowery grades is produced in Ceylon. They find their chief market in North America and a few European countries. Few of the Up-country Ceylons make these grades at all, their stable lines being B.O.P. and B.O.P.F. such as are so dominant in the U.K., Australia and (less so) in South Africa. The demand appears to be for ever smaller and smaller leaf, and a great deal of cutting or milling is resorted to today both in countries of origin and by the packers.
Tippy or Flowery teas (such grades as Flowery Orange Pekoe) are still made in Ceylon and fetch high prices in most Western tea markets. They are much more expensive to produce than the run-of-the-mill grades, since they involve sorting out the tip by hand. The below article regarding Flowery Ceylon tea appeared in a London newspaper:
THE PALL MALL GAZETTE
March 13, 1891
Unusual excitement prevailed on Tuesday in Mincing Lane (the London Tea Auction Houses were/are located there), on the offering by Messrs. Gow Wilson and Stanton, tea-brokers, in public auction, of a small lot of Ceylon tea from the Gartmore estate in Maskeliya (Mr. T.C. Anderson). This tea possesses extraordinary quality in liquor, and is composed almost entirely of small golden tips, which are the extreme ends of the small succulent shoots of the plant, and the preparation of such tea is, of course, most costly. Competition was of a very keen description.
The bidding, which was pretty general to start with, commenced with an offer of 1 pound, 1 shilling per pound of tea; as the price advanced to 8 pounds per pound of tea many buyers dropped out, and at this price about five wholesale dealers were willing to purchase. Offers where then made up to about 9 pounds, 9 shillings per pound of tea by three of the leading houses, the tea being ultimately knocked down to the Mazawattee Ceylon Tea Company at the most extraordinary and unprecedented price of 10 pounds 12 shillings 6 pence per pound of tea.
This was an extraordinary price in 1891; that Tea still fetches a very high on today's market. As such a superb Tea should.