ancient habour

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The Story of Ceylon Tea

Blessed with an abundance of natural resources, Sri Lanka has been known by many names across centuries of recorded history – Serendib, Teardrop of India, Resplendent Isle, Pearl of the Orient. This collection of names reveals the richness of its natural beauty and the intensity of the affection that Sri Lanka evokes from its visitors. However, it is a story and a reputation, more than 150 years in the making, that has helped Sri Lanka stand out for a refined beverage enjoyed the world over – tea.

In 1867, James Taylor – a young, Scottish planter – established the first tea estate in British Ceylon; marking the birth of the island’s tea industry. With Ceylon tea gaining popularity worldwide, the isle became a picture postcard of lush rolling tea estates, dotted with quaint tea factories and smiling tea leaf pluckers.

The tea estates were classified into regions: Nuwara Eliya and Dimbula – the best known of Sri Lanka’s tea-growing regions, and also the regions at the highest elevations. The Nuwara Eliya Teas produces a cup that is light and crisp, with a refreshingly fragrant aroma, whilst the Dimbulla Teas are darker and stronger. The flavor of these teas varies with the seasons and is accentuated during the “Quality Season” from mid-December to April.

Uva remote and exposed to the winds of both the northeast and southwest monsoons, the tea produced here is endowed with a special, unmistakable character and an exotically, aromatic flavor. With the best flavors being produced from June to September.

Uda Pussellawa – situated close to Nuwara Eliya, the tea produced in this region shares some of the characteristics of its better-known neighbors Nuwara Eliya and Uva.

Kandy – The birthplace of the Sri Lankan tea industry; with an elevation below 1,250m. Teas produced here are described as “mid-grown”.

Ruhuna and Sabaragamuwa – the two regions producing “low grown” teas; with more gentle terrains, spreading from the southern coastal plains of the island to the southern edge of the Sinharaja Rainforest. The leaves cultivated in these regions produce dark, strong teas. The teas are of a different style and consist of larger particles with a twisted wiry appearance known as leafy grades. Some grades described as “flowery” have an attractive show of “tips”.

Old Ceylon Tea

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Old tea house

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Sri Lanka - The Spice Trove

Long before this island nation became known for its famed tea, it was courted by kings and courtiers for its treasure trove of gems, the iridescent peacock, purest ivory, perfect pearls, and its abundance of spices. The Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder in 77AD states that the mighty Greek warrior-king and empire builder Alexander the Great visited Sri Pada (circa 324 BCE). The Egyptian astronomer, mathematician, and geographer Ptolemy travel journals of the Portuguese explorer Lorenzo de Almeida, Venetian explorer Marco Polo, the great Moroccan traveler Ibn Batuta, and the first Chinese monk Fa-Hien all speak of this island.
It is recorded that the spice trade in the Orient is partly the reason for the spread of civilization throughout Asia and Europe. Traces of Sri Lanka’s cinnamon, revered to date for its unparalleled quality, has been found in 4,000-year-old Egyptian tombs. Apart from cinnamon, there is reason to believe that the oldest clove in the world was found at an early excavation site in Manthai (Mannar), an ancient port that was the center of international trade connecting the Red Sea, Persian Gulf, East Africa, Far East, and Greater India. Black pepper was another popular spice that was traded from Sri Lanka in those times.
Since the 16th century, Ceylon was wooed and fought over by European colonizers, starting with the Portuguese from 1505 to 1658, the Dutch occupation from 1658 to 1796, and finally British rule from the late 1796s to 1948, primarily to control the island’s vast wealth of spices.
Today, Sri Lanka continues to grow and nurture these spices in spice gardens across the island. We at Iona Estates, carry on this hallowed tradition so that the world can continue to enjoy these wonderful spices. Our range of spices under the Iona Estates brand is carefully selected for their unmatched aroma, potency, flavor, and absolute freshness.