I need one cup of coffee with cream every morning. No more, no less – ALWAYS one. I find there is no gray area when a person chooses a tea over a coffee or vice versa for their AM boost. There might be less religious adamancy throughout the day for some; however, there are those who drink tea or coffee from morning to night. Not knocking you if you do, I would just be a jittery, hot mess if I did that, so one does me fine. If you start your day with water, juice, maybe a health shake or smoothie – that is great, too. Just don’t tell me you start your day with a COKE… YUCK!!
Take my immediate and extended family on my Mom’s side for example. I’m guessing about 95% of them start their day with a hot Ceylon black tea, with hot milk and sugar (I confidently assume a similar statistic for the tea drinkers in Sri Lanka). Look, my eyes don’t lie; I have seen it first-hand. Then, there are the coffee drinkers (the anomalies) in our circle (I know who you are – MYSELF included!) that never subscribed to the masses – at least not for pre-breakfast. Hey, you love what you love and I’d like to see anybody try and come in between me and my morning coffee. I promise you, it won’t be good for you…
So why do Sri Lankans obsess over Ceylon Black Tea?? The taste, of course. Some drink tea in the morning; for a mid-morning break; before and after lunch; high tea (mid- to late afternoon); before and after dinner; and finally right before bed. Not joking. Perhaps obsessed is not the fitting word. It truly is more of a cultural adaptation that has been ingrained in the way of life.
Ceylon tea is beautiful. It’s the BEST!!! So, you say I am biased? That’s a given. Obsessed? Maybe. Whatever you want to call it, I’ve got some info here to back it up…
1. Sri Lanka accounts for ~20% of the world’s tea exports (#1, followed by China and India), and they do it right! The British introduced tea processing to India during the mid-1800s. Then in the late 1800s, the British sought to establish tea plantations in Ceylon after the once-thriving coffee industry was decimated by crop disease.
Indian Tamils, trained and very skilled by their work on plantations in India, were brought to Ceylon to harvest and process the tea leaves. They implemented their craft in the sprawling hills of Nuwara Eliya (meaning “City of Light”) and other abundant tea plantations in the Central Province. With a festival of teas available in Sri Lanka – from low, middle and high altitudes – the varietals are unique and delicious. Green tea, fruity teas, and spiced teas are a few of the options, while the Ceylon Black varietal is the grand dame of tea.
2. Sri Lanka has an ideal climate for the growth and health of tea trees. Being totally surrounded by water, yet blessed with perfect mountainous elevations and an average temp of 16°C (61°F), Sri Lanka’s ultra-green terrain and weather variables make for the perfect tea leaf, every time…
3. Tea is still hand-plucked and keenly eyeballed for the perfect 3-leaved stem with bud, which accounts for the fragrant teas. With manual control for picking tea, it makes it easier to sift through plucked tea later.
4. It is RIDICULOUSLY FRESH, especially for those residing in Sri Lanka. Plucked, processed and a few hours later at storefront near you. Now that’s purity…
Here at the Heritance Tea Factory, formerly an active tea processing facility but now a hotel, Rick and I experienced tea plucking first-hand. It was a blast playing the role of the common tea estate worker! Ladies are given a light cotton saree, gents wear a sarong. Soon, we were on the hunt for the 3-leaved stems with buds. Pluck, pluck, pluck… pluck, pluck, pluck. The reverse slam dunk of the tea leaves, over the shoulder and into the basket, brought some humor to the otherwise methodical manual labor.
This is a pic of me getting adorned with a “Pottu” or “Bindi” which can be worn as a religious sentiment or simply a fashion statement in South and Southeast Asia. Of course I rocked the pottu! I wanted the entire ensemble.
We learned a bit about tea processing in the on-site facility. Here, tea leaves from the 20 acres surrounding the property are processed for consumption by the hotel guests.
I am so glad we took this opportunity to assume the role of the “tea estate worker.” In all seriousness, tea plucking is a learned skill. It’s hard! I cheated and swung my basket around for easier collection. I can’t imagine doing that for hours at a time…The tea estate workers are super-fast, yet accurate, with their hands while maintaining a constant “bent over” position that takes immense strength and endurance. Each worker’s daily minimum is approximately 16-20 kg (35-44 lbs). Plucking, carrying and then weighing tea, twice a day, is not easy. I have a sincere appreciation for the type of work they do. They are amazing.
With all this talk about tea, I will leave you with my grandfather’s simple Ceylon Black Tea Recipe.
I can never pass up my grandfather’s tea and the way he makes it. His tea is robust, yet sweet and balanced by the hot milk and a drop of vanilla. It is something I look forward to when I visit with my grandparents…
As I sip his tea, I visualize Ceylon/Little England in the 1800s and the hustle and bustle at the tea estates. Now I think about my own experiences in modern day Sri Lanka…many things have changed…thankfully the tea remains the same.
What do you like to drink in the morning? Have you tried Ceylon teas? Are you surprised to learn about the various climate conditions and terrain in Sri Lanka? Let me hear from you in the comments below!
Ceylon Black Tea, Sugar, Vanilla and Hot Milk
Serves 2 people
1 tsp of strong loose Ceylon black tea
2 cups of water
1 tsp of sugar
3-4 Tbsp of milk
1 drop of vanilla extract
Boil 2 cups of water with the loose tea in small tea pot. Let steep for 5 minutes, then strain. Add hot milk, sugar and vanilla. Mix vigorously. Tea should be served immediately and piping hot.