Ceylon Black Tea is a widely-consumed type of black tea grown in Sri Lanka and is the most popular type of tea production in Sri Lanka for export.
The word "Ceylon" was the old name for Sri Lanka, which faded out of use for naming the country, but remained a brand for teas produced and exported from Sri Lanka. Ceylon black tea is one of the most common teas in British tea culture, consumed on its own, used in breakfast and supper blends, and frequently used as the base for flavored teas, like Earl Grey and various fruit teas.
Its Distinctive Flavor and characteristics
Typical Ceylon black teas have a middle-of-the-road character, bolder and darker than most Darjeeling teas, but slightly lighter and less malty than a typical Assam.
Ceylon tea is diverse in quality and characteristics; much of it is mass-produced on large plantations and is used primarily in blending. Some single-estate Ceylon black teas are highly regarded, although they typically are not as well-known as teas from the Darjeeling or Assam regions of India. The leaf size and style also varies widely. A particular grade, OPA, is common in Ceylon and relatively uncommon in other areas.
Ceylon OPA is a very bold, long-leaf tea with much larger leaves than the regular orange pekoe grade, but less delicate or wiry than the pricier OP1 grade.
Regional and altitudinal variability
Ceylon teas are typically grouped by altitude into three categories: high-grown, mid-grown, and low-grown, each of which having its own unique attributes. Low-grown teas are produced at 1,500-1,800 foot elevations, mid-grown from 1,800-3,500, and high-grown form 3,500 to 7,500. There are higher and lower quality teas from all altitude regions, and it can be hard to generalize about quality from altitude alone.
The characteristics of Ceylon black tea also vary regionally, owing to different patterns of precipitation created by the steep topography of the island. Two important regions are Nuwara Eliya, producing high-grown Ceylon tea, and the Uva region, producing teas with unique characteristics resulting from its unique climate.
Buying single-estate teas or single-region blends can allow you to taste and experience the unique flavors created by each of these regions.
1. Jane Pettigrew, The Tea Companion, Quintet Publishing, London, 2004.