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Sabaragamuwa

Sabaragamuwa

  • Author: Max Tillberg
  • Date Posted: Aug 25, 2015
  • Category:
  • Address: Sabaragamuwa, Sri Lanka

Sabaragamuwa is Sri Lanka’s biggest tea-growing district, whose relative importance has increased since the expansion of markets for Ceylon Tea in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union. The teas of Sabaragamuwa, like those of Ruhuna, are mainly low-grown. Its estates range in elevation from sea level to around 800 m. The highest estates lie just below the boundaries of the Sinharaja and Peak Wilderness nature reserves and share in the microclimatic conditions produced by the rainforests, cloud forests and high, grassy plains endemic to this region. As a result, they produce tea of a somewhat different character to that grown at lower elevations in the district. Some of these estates receive the highest rainfall of any in the plantation districts. Other upper Sabaragamuwa estates receive some weather from the nearby Uva climatic system, which affects the character of the tea they produce in an entirely different way.

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The Sabaragamuwa tea-growing district covers most of the western and south-western faces of the central mountains of Sri Lanka. The terrain is hilly, with numerous small valleys cut into the hillsides by streams and rivers draining the upper massif. Copiously watered by the southwest monsoon, it features climatic conditions typical of tropical rainforest: hot and humid in the open, moist and cool where tree cover is thick. The most famous of its many places of interest is Adam’s Peak or Sri Pada, a 2200 m mountain peak, conical and symmetrical, at the summit of which a giant, intricately-decorated and detailed footprint has been carved into the rock. Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims all venerate this relic, whose origins are lost in the mists of antiquity.

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Adam’s Peak is only the most prominent attraction of a land rich in history and legend. Indeed, the earliest traces of human settlement in Sri Lanka, dating back 34000 years or more, were found not far from Ratnapura. Various legends relating to the ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana, have been attached to places in Sabaragamuwa; the region also has a number of important associations in history and folklore and was the scene of much warfare and intrigue during the Portuguese period (1505-1658). Tea from the estates of Sabaragamuwa seems to distil the essence of this rich and varied culture, belying the district’s twentieth-century rise to prominence in the industry.

Given the slightly wider range of growing altitude and more varied climatic conditions, it is not surprising that the teas of Sabaragamuwa show a little more variation in character than those of the other predominantly low-grown district, Ruhuna. As with the latter, Sabaragamuwa produces a fast-growing bush with a long leaf, very black when withered and well suited for rolling. The liquor, too, is similar to that of Ruhuna teas, dark yellow-brown with a reddish tint in the dry season, though lightening somewhat with altitude. The ‘nose’ or aroma, however, is noticeably different from the Ruhuna product, with a hint of sweet caramel, and not quite as strong as the latter.

Tea factories
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Source: Sri Lanka Tea Board
Image: http://www.caritassethmini.org/

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