Growing Regions of Sri Lanka – Terroir & Tea

Tea bushes in Sri Lanka.

Ceylon Tea Plantation in Sri Lanka.

Most people do not think of Sri Lanka when they think about tea, until you realize that Ceylon tea comes from Sri Lanka. The British East India Company named the island Ceylon and the name Sri Lanka was actually given to the island in 1972, long after the British had gone. So Sri Lanka is Ceylon, but not all Ceylon teas are created equal. This is a mountainous island, so terroir is going to make a huge difference. The island nation of Sri Lanka boasts 7 different tea growing regions, each producing a different flavor profile for their teas. Below we give you a brief description on what to look for from each region.

Uva – This high elevation, remote, mountainous region of Sri Lanka produces the most complex teas. Their mellow, woody, and floral flavors are considered the finest of Ceylon tea, containing both the copper color and smoother flavor. These flavors are a product of the southwestern monsoons and winds of the northeast. So the area is dry during the prime harvest season and wet during other seasons, creating the best growing conditions for the plants.

Kandy – This mid-elevation region produces a strong bodied tea with a copper colored infused. The monsoon winds heavily influence the flavor. The more the wind and rain, the smoother the flavor.

Nuwara Eliya – The most delicate and lightest of the Ceylon teas, this is  generally higher elevation than Uva. It produces a gold colored liquor in the cup and a light floral flavor. This is a Ceylon tea that most Europeans and Americans would not identify as Ceylon. Exposed to cold winters, the tea plants in this area get a dormant period that other growing regions do not get.

Uda Pussellawa – This wet monsoon region is known more for its leopards than its tea. It still produces a tangy, yet pinkish brew that is somewhere between the flavors of Uva and Nuwara Eliya. This heavy rainfall regions produce the stronger Ceylon teas that are known for holding their flavor in milk.

Dimbula – This region averages 4,000 feet high with rugged terrain, lower than Uva. That terrain produces micro-climates at various estates. Some can be dry, while others are rainy. Generally,tea from Dimbula is mellow, missing the finishing bite from other Ceylon teas. It produces a golden-orange cup that is darker than Nuwara Eliya but lighter than Uda Oussellawa.

Ruhuna – This southern coastal region of Sri Lanka is low-elevation. This lower elevation produces the largest tea leaves in Sri Lanka. It also produces the darkest and most flavorful of the blends. If you like your Ceylon tea with a drying finish, this is the region to turn to. Much like Uda Pussellawa, it will more than hold its flavor in milk. In fact, you may want to only drink this tea with milk.

Sabaragamuwa – This mid-elevation region is a mixture of valleys and mountains. It is located on the north end of the island, making it slightly less wet than the other parts of the island. It produces a sweeter, more caramel flavored tea with a dark reddish-brown tinted brew.

While Sri Lanka works to educate the world on the differences of its growing regions, now is the time to learn these differences and to start to explore the different regions of Sri Lanka and Ceylon tea. Ask your tea merchant which region they buy from, that will tell you whether they have taken the time to learn about Sri Lanka and all it has to offer.

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Cheese Tea, Bubble Tea, Milk Tea and Nitro Tea: What are you Drinking?

Cheese Tea

Fresh Cheese Tea being prepared at Gong Cha in Guangzhou, China.

Cheese tea, bubble tea, milk tea and nitro tea are all available in the US markets. However, few consumers know what they are and where they originated from. We explore each of these delicious treats to explain what they are and provide the essential back story so you can hold your own in any foodie conversation.

Cheese Tea

This is tea topped with a combination of cream cheese, whipped cream and sugar. Yes, this sounds strange, but done correctly and it is an awesome culinary experience. We are found of Tie Kuan Yin or Jasmine Green in this combo with low sugar. Originating out of Guangdong, China by the Royal Tea Company, now called HeyTea, it is immensely popular in China and comes in a wide range of flavors and levels of sweetness. It can be served warm or over ice. The company Gong Cha, also from China, has chains in New York City serving what is supposedly the same recipe, but the cheese is more whipped cream than cream cheese and sweeter. (We prefer the ones we had when visiting Guangdong over the ones served in New York City). Rest assured this is not a low calorie beverage or a low sugar beverage. The cheese topping is said to contain at least 20 grams of sugar but could have as much as 50 grams and that is before they offer to add more sugar to the tea. We haven’t found a company in Virginia making anything close to the original, but Gong Cha is moving into the area beginning in Rockville, MD.

Bubble Tea or Boba Tea

This is a tea like beverage containing large tapioca pearls at the bottom of the drink. Yes, there is tea in the liquid but you may also find that it has been blended with fruit juice or milk. This also comes in a wide variety of flavors and requires an extra large straw to suck up the tapioca pearls. It is generally served cold or at room temperature. It is a different beverage to drink as it is chunky. So if you are ok with chewing on the tapioca pearls, you may enjoy this. This is another calorie dense drink as the tapioca pearls themselves will give you over 100 calories and may be cooked in sugar water to help sweeten them, adding even more. With milk, fruit juice and other sweeteners added this beverage quickly makes it way above 300 calories.

Milk Tea & Thai Iced Tea

Milk tea originates in Hong Kong and is simply evaporated milk (not sweetened) and tea. The milk is sometimes steeped with lavender, jasmine or other floral flavors and then blended with the tea. Sugar is added on request and the beverage is generally served warm. Think of this as a reflection of the century of rule by the British Empire. Thai Iced Tea is a very close in nature to the Hong Kong milk tea. Originating in Thailand, it is served cold and with sweetened condensed milk. This makes the beverage much thicker and sweeter. Sometimes additional spices like star anise or ginger are also added. The milk and sugar add calories, but no where near cheese or bubble tea.

Nitro Tea

This American invention is the tea lover’s answer to nitro coffee. Nitro tea is cold-brewed tea pressurized in a canister of nitrogen gas and dispensed out of spigot just like beer. The nitrogen gas makes the tea naturally sweeter and adds little bubbles to the tea. There are no additional calories, unless the maker of the cold brewed tea added sugar or fruit juice. So think of this as bubbly iced tea. You can add simple syrup after dispensing it but it will deflate the bubbles.

So as you are out and about, keep your eyes open for these unique versions of tea.

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3 uses for Tea Infused Simple Syrup

Tea infused simple syrup is an easy way to incorporate tea into a wide variety of recipes and its simple to make.  So skip the store bought stuff and experiment with your own. A typical simple syrup is just equal parts water and sugar. The water is heated to the point of dissolving the sugar and then removed from the heat to cool.

Tea Infused Simple Syrup

1 1/4 cup water
1 cup sugar
6 grams (roughly 2 Tbsp) Tea

Bring the water to a boil and remove from heat. Put in the tea leaves to steep for 10 minutes. Strain off the leaves and measure out 1 cup of remaining liquid. If you are short because the tea leaves absorbed more than 1/4 cup, add more water to get you to 1 cup of liquid. Put this back on the stove top and add the 1 cup of sugar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. If you do this immediately after steeping, you will not need to return the tea to a boil as it will be hot enough on medium heat to dissolve the sugar quickly. Allow the simple syrup to cool and then put in the refrigerator if not using immediately. Simple syrup generally has a shelf life of 1 month in the refrigerator.

Tea Infused Simple Syrup – Uses

Lemonade – This favorite summer time drink requires a fair amount of sugar to keep it from being too puckering. A tea infused simple syrup is a great way to add an unexpected twist to the lemonade. Moroccan Mint or Mint Fields impart a subtle mint flavor to your lemonade, while using Pear Raspberry Green gives it a nice raspberry twist.

Cocktails/Mocktails – Many cocktails call for simple syrup to help cut the edge off the alcohol in the beverage. If the cocktail, has a clear alcohol base like gin, vodka or rum, the flavor of the tea will be very evident. This allows you to use green tea simple syrups using Sencha or Jasmine Green. With barrel aged alcohols, you can have fun with Puerh and your stronger black teas from Assam.

Coffee – Yes, you read that correctly. Some spicy teas like Ginger Honeybush and Masala Chai add a fun twist to the cup of coffee.

There are countless ways to use simple syrup, so experiment and enjoy!



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Da Hong Pao – Big Red Robe

Tea Bushes

Tea Fields in Wuyi Mountains

According to legend, Da Hong Pao (Dahongpao) tea dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1300-1600 AD) in China. Supposedly tea plucked from the Dahongpao mother bushes cured the sick mother of a Chinese emperor. The emperor was so happy that he sent giant red cloth robes to wrap the four bushes from which the tea was produced.  The original bushes are still alive today, though recent laws from 2006 prevent plucking the mother bushes. Modern Dahongpao is produced from relatives of the originals, that were grown from cuttings from the mother plant.

Da Hong Pao – Terroir and Growing Region

Grown in the Wuyi Mountains of Northwestern Fujian Province, the original home to Da Hong Pao is a national park.  Larger than Yellowstone, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site that was home to farmers and small communities that grew and produced tea in the region. They were “asked” to move out during the creation of the world heritage site and for the most part now live on the outskirts of the park and still care for the plants, pick, and produce the tea.

Long ago the region was an area of high volcanic activity. The result of erosion has been to produce steep cliffs with narrow low-lying areas which includes the 9 bend river — a favorite spot for taking tourists down the river in bamboo rafts. The rocks that make up the region though continue to erode and produce a unique blend of minerals that get taken up by the root systems of tea plants. It’s the combination of the cultivar, the climate of regular fog and mist, and minerals from eroding cliffs that contribute to the unique taste and mouth feel of Da Hong Pao.

The mother bushes themselves are found in 9 Dragon Canyon along a walking tour. End to end, it’s a bit over 3 miles up and down through the canyon where 25+ varieties of tea are grown anywhere the bushes can be fit and reached for plucking. Many of the bushes found here, in addition to the mother plants, are several hundred years old. They produce very high quality, but very low yield!

In addition to tea the area is home to about 5,000 animal species including many rare and unique species. Designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site has resulted in rapid growth of Wuyi-shan. Many new hotels and shops have been built next to the park. China is working on building a new railway station so that tourists can get to the area much faster as the current railway station is about 45 minutes away.  There’s also been an influx of sellers offering Wuyi Rock Oolong Teas and Lapsang Souchong, much of which is fake.

Da Hong Pao – Drinking

This open twist oolong is roughly 35-50% oxidized. Use 3 grams per 8oz of water and steep at 190°F. The first infusion should be steeped for 2-3 minutes while the second infused steep 3-5 minutes. Steep 6 grams of tea in a medium size Gaiwan for approximately 20-30 seconds and pour off into a small pitcher and serve. Infuse 6-8 times adding 5-10 seconds for each infusion.

This rock oolong is worth exploring and adding to your tea cabinet.

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3 Favorite Teas of the First Ladies

First Ladies of the US and Russia

Nancy Reagan and Raisa Gorbachev in 1987

Tea and politics in the United States have gone hand-in-hand since the founding of our country. Tea has influenced many a decision maker and brought together disparate minds over important topics. So it is fun to highlight some of the more frequently served types of tea in the White House. Below are just a few of the favorites of former First Ladies.

Abigail Adams – Abigail Adams served many different teas at the White House. Most formal occasions required a black tea, which during that time in America would have been black tea from the Fujian province in China. Remember that this is shortly after the American Revolution and trade with England and the British East India Company was not in the picture. So there would have been almost no tea from India at this time. Abigail took it upon herself to blend the black tea with rose petals to make a softer tea that she would serve for closest friends and family.

Nancy Reagan – The repeated meetings between President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, that would ultimately lead to the fall of the Berlin wall in Germany and communism in Russia, required Nancy Reagan to entertain Raisa Gorbachev. This was done over a series of teas. During the one hosted by Mrs. Reagan, she offered a decaffeinated almond tea to Ms. Gorbachev, who seemed to enjoy it. Quite a bit was written by Mrs. Reagan about how uncomfortable these teas where in her memoir. As the conversations whether rather impersonal, with Mrs. Gorbachev talking about communism (she was a political science lecturer at many of the Russian universities) while Mrs. Reagan tried to steer the conversation toward talking about their children. Much was written in the press on the importance of these teas to international relations even though they were rather uncomfortable for Mrs. Reagan. At least she had her favorite tea with her during those trying meetings.

Jacqueline Kennedy – Another First Lady who entertained with many afternoon teas, Mrs. Kennedy used those affairs to help redefine the role of the First Lady in national politics. Now, much like Abigail Adams, those afternoon teas where formal affairs requiring a more formal tea. So a traditional black tea, this time Indian tea, as trade with China had not resumed, was usually served. It isn’t until she is away from the limelight that you learn her favorite tea was actually a black iced tea blended with mint, orange juice, and lime juice. She usually enjoyed this during the summer months while reading.

These are just a few of the First Ladies, so many more drank tea routinely, it is just rather difficult to get to the type of tea they liked. It should be noted that tea has had a long role at the White House and continues to be a way to connect with visiting dignitaries from all over the world.

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