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Specialty teas from Sri Lanka.

Specialty teas from Sri Lanka

The story of Sri Lanka tea began in the year 1867 when a young Scotsman from the U.K., James Taylor, made his first debut growing tea on a small extent of 21 acres at Loolecondera in the Central hills of Sri Lanka. Six years later in 1873, the first consignment of 23 pounds of tea left the shores of Sri Lanka for sale in London. Over the last 100 years, tea has become the backbone of Sri Lanka's economy and today Sri Lanka is the second largest supplier of tea to the world markets, exporting around 200 million kilograms per year to over 40 countries.

Steeped in tradition, Sri Lanka's tea production and exports consisted until mid - 1980s almost entirely of Black teas of Orthodox manufacture. The consumers world over, particularly the younger generation, are becoming perceptive in their palates and are demanding a more titillating and exciting brew. Speciality teas have now become one of the fastest growing segment of the tea market particularly in the developed countries. To meet this new and emerging market trend, Sri Lanka has now begun to supply her teas in increasingly divergent forms.

Flavored & Scented Teas

In the speciality tea category, Sri Lanka has developed a sizeable export market for flavored and scented teas. During the 12 months ended December, 1989, Sri Lanka has exported around 400,000 kgs. of flavored and scented teas to several countries.

The main markets serviced by Sri Lanka are Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Kuwait, U.S.A., Canada, U.K., Germany, and Japan. Several types of natural and artificial flavors both in oils and granule forms are used for the production of flavored teas. Early Grey, Cardamom, and Lemon are the principal scented teas marketed by Sri Lanka. Among the other popular flavors are Lemon, Apple, Mango, Strawberry, Rasberry, Passion Fruit and Vanilla. Sixty percent of the flavored teas are exported from Sri Lanka in packets and 40 percent in tea bag form.

Various methods of applying flavor to tea is adopted in Sri Lanka, some more sophisticated than others. The Tea Research Institute of Sri Lanka has developed a machine for the flavoring of tea where batch-wise scenting is done in specially constructed scenting drums. The flavor is filled into a glass container and the liquid is made to flow to the chromato graphy blotting paper. When the tea is loaded into the drum and the paddle moved slowly, a thorough blending takes place while the scented pad is in contact with the tea. The rotating action ensures fresh tea coming continuously into contact with the pad, thus ensuring a homogeneous scenting action. The scenting process takes about 30-40 minutes per batch.

The advantages of this process is uniform flavoring as well as optimism of flavor utilization. This process is now largely used by Sri Lankan exporters. The other popular method used in Sri Lanka for applying flavor is the spraying method. Under this method, Black tea is spread uniformly on trays in specially constructed rooms. Using automatic spraying devices, uniform spraying is carried out. The mixing of the tea at regular intervals facilitates the uniform distribution of the flavor on the tea. The principal advantage of this process is that it is a rapid method for flavoring small quantities of tea although a certain amount of the flavoring agent is lost by volatilization into the atmosphere.

The types of tea normally used for the production of flavored teas in Sri Lanka are mid-grown and low-grown Broken Orange Pekoe grade. Dust grades are not generally used because dust particles tend to get saturated with the flavoring liquid resulting in lump formation. The moisture content of the tea used for the production of flavored tea does not exceed five percent to ensure the active absorption of flavoring. After the processing is completed, the scented teas are packed immediately in triple laminated aluminium foil to preserve the flavor. For tea bags, laminated sachets are often used to retain the flavor.

Organic Tea

Organic tea is another gourmet tea marketed by Sri Lanka. Consumers in the developed countries are increasingly becoming health conscious and are clamouring for organically grown food. This demand has now extended to organically grown beverages such as tea. In organic agriculture, the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and insecticides are strictly prohibited. Instead, the tea is grown with the help of organic fertilizers such as cowding, farmyard manure, compost, green manure, etc., to provide the necessary nutrients. Sri Lanka's organic tea cultivation is a pioneering effort by Stassen Exports Ltd, a leading tea exporting firm in Sri Lanka. The project in Sri Lanka extends over an area of 250 acres which is rated as the largest organic tea farm in the world.

This project is carried out in Needwood Estate in the Uva District famous for its quality tea. Tea is grown in this estate according to the standards laid down for organic agriculture by the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements (IFOAM) and monitored and certified by its accredited inspectors.

At present, Sri Lanka's production of organic tea is in the region of 200,000 kgs. per annum and it is targeted to reach one million kgs. in the near future. The entirety of the production is channelled to the export market. The main markets for which the organic tea is exported by Sri Lanka are Europe and Australia. Organic tea is exported entirely in consumer packs to prevent adulteration and for the purpose of easy monitoring and certification by the IFOAM inspectorate.

Green Tea

Although 21 percent of world output of tea consists of green tea, Sri Lanka has only gained inroads into the green tea market a few years ago.

The essential difference between Black tea and Green tea is that the stage of fermentation is prevented in the processing of Green tea. This is achieved by either steaming or pan firing the green leaf prior to rolling whereby the enzyme polyphenol oxidase is inactivated. The tea obtained by the steaming process is called the Japanese type Green tea and that by the other process is Chinese type Green tea.

In the early 1960's, an attempt was made by a Sri Lanka entrepreneur to manufacture the Japanese type green tea on a commercial scale, but it was abandoned within a short time as the product did not come up to market requirements. In the early 80's, Stassen Exports Ltd. embarked on a project to produce the Chinese type of green tea which has proved a success. At present, this firm is the only producer and exporter of green tea in Sri Lanka. There are two factories situated in the heartland of the tea country producing about 1.5 percent million kgs. of green tea per annum, all of which is exported. Plans are underway to expand the production of green tea to about three million kgs. per annum. Bulk of the production is exported to the North African countries in Europe. Sri Lanka has the unique distinction of exporting green tea even to Taiwan, the country which gave the technique and machinery for the production of green tea. The green tea produced by Sri Lanka is exported in value-added form in consumer packaging in packets and bags. A small quantity of green tea is also exported in the form of flavored tea particularly Jasmine green tea.

Instant Tea

Instant tea technology is well established is Sri Lanka. In the 60's, an instant tea project for the production of hot water soluble instant tea was established in Agrapatana, in the highlands of Sri Lanka by Ms. Margarine Union, Hamburg, a subsidiary of the Unilever Group. The process for the manufacture of instant tea at this factory was originally developed by the Tea Research Institute of Sri Lanka in colloboration with the Ceylon Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research. The commercial exploitation of the process was undertaken by the foreign investors.

Although the advent of tea bags has largely displaced the convenience afforded by instant tea, Sri Lanka's instant tea project continues to market its product despite the adverse global trading environment. Presently, this project is owned by Ceytea Ltd., a subsidiary of Unilever Group. The factory has been restructed to produce both cold water and hot water soluble instant tea, either from green leaf or black tea. During the year 1989, this factory has produced around 350,000 kilograms of instant tea. Sixty percent of this output consists of cold soluble instant tea and the balance is hot soluble. The entire production of instant tea is channelled to export market, mainly to the U.S.A., Germany, France, Italy and Japan.

Carbonated Tea

The Tea Research Institute of Sri Lanka has developed a process for the preparation of liquid tea concentrates. This concentrate could be diluted with water in the ratio of 1:3 to 1:4 and the diluted product could be bottled or canned for drinking as a carbonated or uncarbonated beverage. This tea concentrate could be further blended with exotic flavors such as orange, lemon, apple etc.

Although this process has been perfected at the laboratory scale and patented, it has yet to be scaled up for commercial exploitation. The test marketing of this product in the soft beverage sector and its commercial viability are areas that need further attention before the product could be put in the market.

If tea is to remain a vibrant and expanding sector of the soft beverage market, the industry should innovate and keep abreast of the new and different moods, tastes and preferences of the consumers. The tea "purist" may not take up to these new forms of tea with cheerful readiness. He may still want the good old real vintage leaf tea. But it is an inexorable fact of life that the old order changes giving way to new. The tea industry will also have to innovate or will be left behind in the race for exotic drinks.
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Author:Sambasivam, T.
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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