What kind of tea should you try in Sri Lanka? Sri Lankan Tea Odyssey: A Flavorful Journey through Diverse Ceylon Tea Varieties

Ceylon tea - Sri Lankan Tea

I have a question for you. When you think of Sri Lanka, what comes to mind first? I’m sure Ceylon tea would pop up in your mind, along with the amazing Sri Lankan beaches and the legendary Sri Lankan Cricket team. Sri Lanka, considered one of the purest tea producers in the world, has so many varieties of tea that sometimes it might be challenging to choose the best type of tea. I’m going to give you an overview of the different types of tea that you can find on this paradise island, along with their distinctive qualities, so you can get a brief idea of what type of tea to try and buy during your upcoming island vacation in Sri Lanka. Before getting into all that, let’s get to know how Ceylon tea became one of the three main traditional export crops in Sri Lanka.

Tea plantation

As an experiment to replace the coffee crops that were eradicated from the island by a devastating disease, the British introduced tea to Sri Lanka while it was a colony of the British Empire. And they were pleasantly surprised by the result of their experiment. Not only did Sri Lanka provide the perfect climate for the tea plantations to thrive, but also enriched the tea leaves with a unique taste and flavour that gave it exactly what the Englishman was looking for in a cup of tea. It was “The perfect cup of tea destined to represent English High tea”. 

And from that day on, the British fell under the spell of Ceylon tea, and the word of this delicious, elegant tea from a faraway island spread all over the world.

You must be wondering Why Sri Lankan Tea, mostly referred to as Ceylon tea, is so popular. It’s because of the range of choices, style, flavour, fragrance, purity, and freshness of Sri Lankan tea. According to the region of this wonderful island where the tea leaves grow, they accumulate a distinct flavour complex, aroma, and a colour, which gives rise to a wide range of high-quality Ceylon tea products. Handpicked and carefully processed tea leaves using orthodox and artisanal methods are packed within 3 weeks of harvesting to ensure their freshness, flavour, and aroma. According to the ISO Technical Committee, Ceylon Tea is also the most pesticide-residue-free tea in the entire world. Sri Lanka is also the proud owner of the first global ethical tea brand recognised by the United Nations Global Compact, as well as the first country to receive the “Ozone Friendly Tea” designation recognised under the Montreal Protocol Treaty.

Image of a cup of Ceylon Tea, beautifully steeped, showcasing rich amber hues. A saucer and tea leaves complement the scene, evoking Sri Lanka's tea culture and flavors

Varieties of Ceylon tea

Now that we know why Ceylon tea is so popular, let’s get to know the different varieties of Ceylon tea. The Varieties can be broadly divided according to the region where tea is grown, the colour of the brew, the size of the final product, and the type of tea leaf used as the raw material.

Before going into details about the variations of Ceylon tea, I’ll give you a list of the most popular teas to try in Sri Lanka. But please remember that everyone’s taste preferences are unique, so feel free to explore and discover the Sri Lankan tea that resonates most with your palate. Sri Lanka’s diverse tea offerings are sure to leave a lasting impression on your journey.

  1. Nuwara Eliya Tea: Grown in the Nuwara Eliya region, this tea is known for its delicate flavors and briskness. It often has floral and light fruity notes, making it a sought-after choice among tea enthusiasts.
  2. Uva Tea: From the Uva province, Uva teas are known for their lively character and briskness. They have a distinct brightness and are prized for their unique taste.
  3. Dimbula Tea: Dimbula teas are produced in the central highlands and are characterized by their bright liquor and well-balanced flavors. They often have hints of citrus and pine.
  4. Loolecondera Tea: Loolecondera Tea is known for its balanced flavor profile. It may offer a harmonious interplay of briskness, sweetness, and floral notes, providing a well-rounded and satisfying cup.
  5. Kenilworth Tea: Grown in the Kenilworth Estate, this tea boasts a rich and full-bodied flavor with a unique combination of briskness and mild astringency.
  6. Adam’s Peak Tea: From the Maskeliya region, Adam’s Peak tea is prized for its brisk and bright infusion. It offers a refreshing cup with well-rounded flavors.
  7. Ceylon Silver Tips: This is a highly sought-after tea made from the unopened buds of the tea plant, covered in fine silvery hairs. It offers a delicate and luxurious experience with subtle floral and honey notes.
  8. Golden Tips Tea: Similar to Silver Tips, Golden Tips tea features tender buds with golden tips. It offers a rich, sweet, and indulgent flavor profile.
  9. Ceylon Green Tea: Sri Lanka produces excellent green teas with fresh and grassy flavors. They are known for their light, slightly astringent taste and potential health benefits.
  10. White Tea: Ceylon white tea is known for its minimal processing, resulting in a delicate, subtle taste with gentle sweetness and light floral notes.

According to my brother, who is a 100% tea enthusiast and has tasted almost all tea varieties in Sri Lanka, Loolecondera BOPF is one of the best teas in Sri Lanka.

Image of a tea plucker in Sri Lanka carefully harvesting tea leaves. Traditional attire and meticulous plucking highlight the labor-intensive process of tea cultivation.

My personal favorite is Dimbula OP or BOP, which has a balanced flavor that really suits my preference. It’s neither too strong nor too light. And the brew’s coloring is quite aesthetically beautiful.

Please keep reading to know what OP, BOP and BOPF mean and to know the different varieties of Ceylon tea along with their characteristics, so you can decide for yourself what type of tea you want to buy during your visit to Sri Lanka. 

Types of Sri Lankan tea according to the region

Sri Lanka, being an island, has a range of landscapes starting from 0m altitude on the beach and gradually rising to 2500m altitude in the hill country. According to the altitude at which the tea is grown, it is divided into three types:

Scenic view of lush tea plantations in Sri Lanka, with neat rows of vibrant green tea bushes stretching across rolling hills. A serene snapshot of the country's tea-rich landscape

Low-grown tea

Low-grown Tea comes from plantations that are grown below an altitude of 600m. These areas, which often have a tropical climate, include parts of southern Sri Lanka and the coastal plains. The warm and humid conditions of these regions contribute to the distinctive characteristics of low-grown teas.

Flavour profile: Low-grown teas are known for their robust and bold flavours, often exhibiting a rich and full-bodied taste. The warmer temperatures and higher humidity levels contribute to the tea leaves’ rapid growth, which in turn can result in teas with stronger flavours and deeper colours.

Aroma: Low-grown teas are often characterised by a robust and hearty aroma. Depending on the specific region and terroir, the aroma can range from earthy and malty to fruity and sometimes even chocolaty.

Ruhuna, Sabaragamuwa, and Southern Province tea are some of the Low-grown teas in Sri Lanka.

Tea plantation in Sri Lanka - Ceylon tea

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Mid-grown tea

This type of tea comes from plantations that are grown between 600 and 1200 metres above sea level.This mid-altitude terrain, often characterised by rolling hills and cooler climates, provides the ideal conditions for producing teas that strike a harmonious balance between the boldness of low-grown teas and the delicacy of high-grown teas.

Flavour profile: Mid-grown teas typically exhibit a well-rounded and balanced taste, with nuances of briskness, strength, and a subtle astringency. This unique combination makes mid-grown teas versatile and appealing to a wide range of tea enthusiasts.

Aroma: Mid-grown teas often boast a pleasing aroma that can vary depending on the specific region and terroir. This aroma can range from floral and fruity to slightly earthy, contributing to the tea’s complex and inviting bouquet.

Dimbula Tea, Ruhuna Tea, and Uda Pussellawa Tea are examples of Mid-grown tea in Sri Lanka.

Tea cup with tea pot - Ceylon tea

High-grown tea

High-grown tea is cultivated at elevations ranging from 1,200 metres to as high as 2,500 metres above sea level. These lofty elevations are often found in the central and western regions of the country, where the cooler climate and mountainous terrain create an ideal environment for producing tea with distinct attributes.

Flavour profile:These teas are known for their delicate, refined, and often complex flavours. High-grown teas tend to be lighter and more subtle compared to low-grown and mid-grown teas, with a pronounced brightness and crispness.

Aroma:High-grown teas are celebrated for their captivating aromas, which can range from floral and aromatic to fruity and sometimes even slightly woody.

Nuwara Eliya Tea, Uva Tea, and Dimbula Tea are some of the teas that can be considered high-grown teas.

High-grown tea comes from the scenic tea estates that you pass when travelling on the famous Ella train. If you haven’t read the articles on The Famous Ella Train Ride and Ella Odyssey—the Journey of a Lifetime, I’ll leave the links here for you to check them out.

The nine-arch bridge along the Ella railway tract rises above the high-grown tea plantations.

There are 7 major regions where tea is grown in Sri Lanka and 7 tea types according to the region where the crops are grown.

Nuwara Eliya: Grown in the picturesque Nuwara Eliya region, these teas are known for their exquisite delicacy, bright liquor, and floral notes, often reminiscent of jasmine and citrus.

Uda Pussellawa: From the Uda Pussellawa district, these teas display a lively and brisk character with a bright infusion, making them ideal for both hot and iced consumption.

Dimbula: Hailing from the Dimbula region, these teas are known for their bright, coppery liquor and a well-balanced flavour with hints of citrus and pine.

While Dimbula teas are often associated with mid-grown regions, some high-grown teas from the Dimbula district also exhibit the nuanced and delicate characteristics of high-grown varieties.

Uva: Cultivated in the Uva province, Uva teas are revered for their briskness and lively character, with a distinct brightness that sets them apart.

Assortment of Ceylon tea varieties, showcasing vibrant leaves and diverse colors. A visual representation of the rich tapestry of flavors and options in Sri Lanka's tea offerings

Ruhuna: Grown in the southern region of Sri Lanka, Ruhuna teas exhibit a rich and full-bodied character, often accompanied by fruity and floral notes.

Sabaragamuwa: Hailing from the Sabaragamuwa province, these teas display a strong and robust flavour with hints of fruitiness and a pleasant briskness.

Kandy:Kandy tea, cultivated in the historic city of Kandy in the central region of Sri Lanka, is a notable variety known for its unique and vibrant characteristics. Grown at moderate elevations, Kandy tea captures the essence of its terroir, offering a harmonious blend of flavours and aromas. This tea type is celebrated for its medium body, briskness, and well-balanced taste, making it a delightful choice for tea enthusiasts seeking a classic and refreshing cup.

Tea pluckers in Sri Lanka - Ceylon tea - Best tea in the world

Grades of Ceylon tea according to the size and type of tea leaf used as raw material

Ceylon tea is categorised into different types and grades according to the size of the final product and sometimes by the type of tea leaf used as the raw material.

The flavour, colour, aroma, and time needed to brew the tea differ between these types and grades.

One useful tip: the bigger the tea leaf, the more time you need to brew the tea. Pay attention to the instructions on the package to brew a perfect cup of tea.

Assorted types of tea leaves from Sri Lanka showcased in vibrant array. A visual depiction of the diverse flavors and characteristics that define the country's rich tea heritage

Silver Tips: Silver Tips tea consists of only the tender, unopened buds of the tea plant, covered in fine, silvery-white hair, that are handpicked before sunrise. This rare and delicate tea is prized for its exquisite flavour, smoothness, and subtle sweetness.

OP- Orange Pekoe: Orange Pekoe refers to whole tea leaves that are long and unbroken, with a bold flavour and brisk character. It is a classic and widely recognised grade of tea.

Assortment of Ceylon tea varieties, showcasing vibrant leaves and diverse colors. A visual representation of the rich tapestry of flavors and options in Sri Lanka's tea offerings

FBOP- Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe: This grade features broken tea leaves with some tips, yielding a bright and lively infusion with a pronounced floral aroma and a brisk taste.

BOP1 (Broken Orange Pekoe 1): BOP1 consists of slightly broken tea leaves that offer a robust and flavorful cup with a moderate briskness.

Pekoe: Pekoe refers to whole, unopened tea leaves that are smaller than Orange Pekoe leaves. It produces a mild and aromatic infusion.

BOP (Broken Orange Pekoe): Broken Orange Pekoe comprises broken tea leaves, offering a hearty and bold brew with a deep flavour.

BOPF (Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings): BOPF contains small broken tea leaves, often used in tea bags, producing a strong and brisk infusion.

Tea Factory - Sri Lanka - Ceylon tea

Dust 1: This grade includes very small tea particles, often used in tea bags for a quick and strong brew.

FBOPF EX.SP- Flowery Broken Pekoe Fannings Extra Special: This premium grade features a higher proportion of tips and produces a refined, full-bodied cup with a floral aroma.

Golden Tips: Golden Tips tea consists of the tea plant’s tender buds with golden-hued tips, offering a rich, sweet, and luxurious flavour.

FF1 (Flowery Fannigs): FF1 consists of larger fanning particles, yielding a brisk and flavorful cup. It is often used in tea bags.

Gunpowder: Gunpowder tea is made from tightly rolled tea leaves that unfurl during brewing. It produces a strong and bold infusion, often with slightly smoky notes. The tightly rolled tea resembles the ammunition used in old muskets, hence the name of the tea.

Ceylon tea - Delicious tea - Tea cup with a saucer - Best tea in the world

You can browse more amazing photos from Sri Lanka and purchase some for yourself by visiting our profile @ iStock by Getty Images.

Varieties of tea according to the color of the brew

Ceylon tea alters the liquor’s colour depending on how it is processed. The aroma and flavour also vary along with the coloration.

Black Tea: Black tea is a fully oxidised tea with a robust flavour, a dark colour, and a rich aroma. It is known for its boldness and is often enjoyed with or without milk and sugar, offering a comforting and invigorating experience.

Black teas are blended with natural ingredients to make heavenly infusions. Some of such blends are:

  • English Breakfast
  • English Afternoon
  • Irish Breakfast
  • Earl Grey (this is another one of my favourites).
  • Ceylon Lapsang Souchong (Ceylon smoke)
  • Spiced Masala
  • Rose and French Vanilla
  • Black tea with berries

and the list goes on….

Green tea: Green tea is unoxidized, preserving its vibrant green colour and fresh, grassy flavour. It contains antioxidants and offers a light, slightly astringent taste that is often enjoyed for its potential health benefits.

Some varieties of green tea that you can try in Sri Lanka are:

  • Real Leaf Green Tea 
  • Jasmine Green Tea 
  • Mint Green Tea 
  • Lemongrass Green Tea

White Tea: White tea is the least processed type, with minimal oxidation. It features delicate, young tea buds and leaves, offering a subtle, sweet, and nuanced flavour profile. It is the most expensive variety of tea due to how it is harvested and its unique aroma and flavour. White tea is known for its gentle and refined taste and is often enjoyed for its delicate character.

Tea estate - Ceylon tea

Where can you try Ceylon tea during your visit to Sri Lanka?

You can order a cup of tea from almost any restaurant in Sri Lanka. But if you want to enjoy a first-class Ceylon Tea experience, visit Tea lounges operated by renowned tea producers in Sri Lanka like Mlesna, Dilmah, etc.

You can even participate in a tea tasting session and get to know different types of tea firsthand.

And some tea estates arrange tea tours where you will get the chance to witness the full life story of a cup of Ceylon tea, from plucking the tea leaves, processing them, and finally brewing the perfect cup of tea.

Tea cup with Tea pot - Ceylon tea

Sri Lankan tea stands as a testament to the harmonious blend of history, culture, and nature. Its journey from colonial beginnings to a globally celebrated beverage reflects the resilience and adaptability of the people behind its cultivation. As you sip a cup of Ceylon tea, you are not just indulging in a beverage but partaking in a centuries-old tradition that continues to evolve and enchant. So, raise your teacup and toast to the timeless elegance of Sri Lankan tea—a symphony of flavours that connects us to a world of beauty and serenity.

I’ll meet you with another “Letter” from Ceylon. Until then… 

නැවත හමුවෙමු😉 (Newatha hamuwemu = Let’s meet again)

Don’t forget to share your thoughts about this post and what you would like to read about Sri Lanka in the future in the comments section.

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