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About Ceylon Loose Leaf Tea

Cast adrift of the South-Eastern tip of India, is the teardrop-shaped Island of Sri Lanka. Since the spectacular collapse of the island's coffee industry in the 1870's, Ceylon tea has been the country's chief eponymous global export. When the independent island changed its colonial name, Ceylon, to Sri Lanka in 1972, the tea's name had to remain the same; such was the formidable reputation of the 'Ceylon' brand.

Our 'Shawlands' OPI Ceylon is plucked fresh from the Uva region of Sri Lanka and is a sterling example of the higher end of Ceylon production. Dark, wiry leaves brew into a bright cup with robust and tangy flavour that is the consummate introduction to Sri Lanka's finest export.  


Tangy tea with a pungent floral twist for a rich, gentle flavour.


The main herbal fragrance is textured by hints of citrus, nut and malt.


A scarlet-tinged brown illuminates the cup.

History and Origins

Ceylon tea can be broadly split into three categories: that which is grown 4,000 feet plus above sea level (such as in Dimbula and Nuwara Eliya), that grown between 2,000 and 4,000 feet (as in Uva) and that grown below 2,000 feet (as in Ruhuna). These are commonly classified as 'high', 'medium' and 'low-grown' teas respectively. Whilst the high-grown teas are commonly considered the finest, in truth, all the regions are capable of growing the highest quality leaves. Our Ceylon hails from Shawlands Tea Estate at an altitude of 3,850 feet.

The mountainous clump covering most of the South and centre of the Island provides the country's tea industry with a unique advantage; different areas of the region can experience different seasons simultaneously and, as a consequence, it is possible to harvest tea all the year round.

Until the 1870's, Ceylon was world-famous not for its tea but for its coffee, its produce once rivalling even the best of Brazilian beans. However, in 1869 a particularly aggressive leaf fungus landed on Ceylon's shores. Pursuing something of a scorched earth policy, the menacing Hemileia vastatrix's campaign was nothing short of genocidal and, within 20 years, nary a coffee plantation remained.

This was frightfully bad news. With the export economy on the verge of collapse, a new crop had to be found to fill the yawning gap opened by coffee's unceremonious demise. Initially, the planters stepped-up contemporary efforts with the cinchona tree, the bark of which is used to make quinine. The germination of this industry had marginally pre-dated the coffee crisis and was an obvious choice for some quick capital. Celebratory gin and tonics all round then? Not quite. Blighted by disease themselves and unable to match the market demand for coffee, cinchona trees proved a  poor substitute and were increasingly used as a short-term option for money to invest in a new, more fruitful crop, tea.        

Inroads had been made on the island, in tea terms, as early as 1824. The first tea plant was brought to Ceylon from China in that year by the British and planted in the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens. Four years on, Maurice de Worms, a member of the omnipotent Rothschild family, had experimented on the family estate with commercial tea plantation but had met with little success. Rather, as in India twenty years earlier, it took a Scotsman to open the innings.

In 1852, at the age of sixteen, James Taylor emigrated to work at the Harrison and Leake Coffee plantation in Ceylon. A talented sort, his cultivation skills soon matched the grooming abilities he employed for his uncommonly luxuriant beard and by 1866 he had been given sole responsibility for his own estate, at Loolecondera. Charged with experimental tea planting, in 1867 he planted 19 acres of tea which he prepared for sale entirely, albeit in a rather crude fashion, on site, using a rolling machine of his own invention. The first tea was sold in Kandy in 1872 and was soon widely trumpeted as being ‘dashed fine tea indeed!’

This showed that not only could tea replace the vanquished coffee plantations, but that the topography and climate allowed the new plantations to rival the best in the world. With a pinch of period British bombast, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle scribbled their triumph over considerable adversity thus:

 “Not often is it that men have the heart, when their one great industry is withered, to rear up in a few years another as rich to take it's place: and the tea fields of Ceylon are as true a monument to courage as is the lion of Waterloo.”  

By 1891 a 'Tippy' tea from the Mazawattee Ceylon Tea Company was hammered down in a London auction at the exorbitant price of £10 12s 6d. We've dusted off the Kettle Shed abacus and that works out at about £640 per lb in modern money. It was also tea from Ceylon and India, sold at a sub-continentally themed stall in the Chicago World Fair in 1900, that first introduced a global market to the British institution of afternoon tea. And where would our 4 o'clocks be without that?


Brewing Instructions

  • About a teaspoon per cup or per person (if using a pot) is a good rule of thumb for black teas.
  • Always use freshly boiled water (100°C) to fully release the leaves' flavour and steep for 3-4 minutes.
  • Steeping for too long will land you with a ‘stewed’ brew.
  • Sugar and milk may be, politely, introduced if desired.