According to legend tea was discovered over 5000 years ago in China by Emperor Shang Nung around 2737 BC. This accidental discovery developed into a fully fledged consumer beverage as it's valuable health properties began to dawn on the populace and generations that followed.
The first non-commercial tea plants of the two varieties, Camelia sinensis and assamica were grown at the Botanical gardens at Peradeniya/Kandy in 1824. Commercial cultivation in Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, by which name tea grown in Sri Lanka is still famously known commenced in 1867 by an agriculturist of Scottish descent - James Taylor. His original assignment was on a coffee plantation - Naranghena estate. However, coffee plantations were devastated by a "blight'that destroyed all plantations. James Taylor, without being discouraged by this setback, focussed his energy and vision in growing a more resilient plant - Camelia sinensis - the Tea plant, to create the successful agricultural enterprise on a 20- acre plot of land at Loolecondera estate in Hewaheta in the Kandy district..
Commercial production of black tea was introduced later by changing the process of cultivation/manufacture. The British commenced growing tea on an organized scale after setting up the first tea plantation at Looolecondera estate. This estate is still actively functioning. A visit to the Tea Museum at Hantane will be very useful to those interested in discovering the history of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) tea industry.
It is of interest to note the Ceylon Government Railway system was inaugurated in 1871, which traversed through the tea plantation districts passing breathtaking views of the well laid green carpet like tea bushes of the estates, well -known waterfalls and beautiful scenery to transport the factory made tea to the city of Colombo to be further processed and exported.
In Sri Lanka tea is grown mainly in the central mountain areas as well as the lower southern regions. These tea growing areas are clearly defined into regions each known for producing teas of a particular and unique character. Seven districts, different in terrain, soil composition, rainfall patterns and climatic conditions contribute to the uniqueness in leaf and cup quality.
Due to the weather system in the Indian ocean has an effect on the island creating two distinct seasons.They are the northeast rainy or monsoon season ( from December to March) and the south-west season ( June to September) . Due to the high mountain range in the central part rising up to 7000 ft shielding the rainfall, the two monsoon periods do not affect significantly the other side. Therefore the two seasons of different weather conditions result in warm days and cold nights with desiccating winds on each side of the central hills.
These conditions create a conducive environment for the leaves to absorb nutrients and cause rapid expiration drawing the chemicals to the top tender leaves and the bud in the plant. These two tender leaves and the bud are selectively and carefully plucked by experienced pluckers, mostly females. Once brought to the factory these plucked leaves are again carefully checked and are gently nurtured through the manufacturing process to convert them to the made leaf. The process brings out the aroma, quality and flavour under the skilled supervision of the Tea Maker enhancing all these characteristics into the brewed liquid.
The liquor profile, type of flavour ( smooth, pungent, mellow, malty etc) are discernable in the cup of teas from the different districts along with their distinctive characters.
Subtle differences can be detected from gardens in the same area in the regions and these characteristics are the most prized features of Ceylon teas when compared to those of other origins.Furthermore, Ceylon tea has earned the reputation of being the "cleanest tea" globally.
Tea from different legally registered areas or regions grown in plantations and processed in their factories with their distinctive characters are classified as teas from such districts. There are five main regionally classified tea referred to as Kandy (mid country ), Dimbulla ( western mountainous region), Nuwara Eliya ( high mountain region) Uva ( eastern mountain slopes) and Ruhuna ( southern lower plateaus and valleys)