History of Ceylon Tea
Tea is cultivated in Sri Lanka using the ‘contour planting’ method, where tea bushes are planted in lines in coordination with the contours of the land, usually on slopes. For commercial manufacture the ‘flush’ or leaf growth on the side branches and stems of the bush are used. Generally two leaves and a bud, which have the flavor and aroma, are skillfully plucked, usually by women. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries where each tea leaf is picked by hand rather than by mechanization; if machinery were used, often a considerable number of coarse leaves and twigs could be mixed in, adding bulk but not flavor to the tea. With experience the women acquire the ability to pluck rapidly and set a daily target of around 15 to 20 kg (33 to 44 lb) of tea leaves to be weighed and then transported to the nearby tea factory.
Tea plants in Sri Lanka require constant nurturing and attention. An important part of the process is taking care of the soils with the regular application of fertilizer. Younger plants are regularly cut back 10–15 cm (4–6 in) from the ground to encourage lateral growth and are pruned very frequently with a special knife.
The tea factories found on most tea estates in Sri Lanka are crucial to the final quality and value of manufactured tea. After plucking, the tea is very quickly taken to the muster sheds to be weighed and monitored under close supervision, and then the teas are brought to the factory. A tea factory in Sri Lanka is typically a multi-storied building and located on tea estates to minimize the costs and time between plucking and tea processing. The tea leaves are taken to the upper floors of the factories where they are spread in troughs, a process known as withering, which removes excess moisture in the leaf. Once withered, the tea leaves are rolled, twisted and parted, which serves as a catalyst for the enzymes in the leaves to react with the oxygen in the air, especially with the production of black tea.