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The 7th Reason to Visit Sri Lanka

Remember the tea your grandmother used to make? Remember the old tea crates it came in? A strong, rich brew you could smell through the house while it was drawing in the pot.

Tea now is a pale imitation of that. Tea bags - forget it. But even the loose leaf tea from quality manufacturers still just doesn't seem to cut it, does it?

Well my friend, I have news for you. Tea like that is still made and in Colombo you can buy a 100g vacuum packed tin of the best single plantation high altitude tea for around Rs. 250 ($2.50).

In the olden days, before vacuum packing, it used to be shipped as the full leaf, because a broken leaf would oxidize faster and not be as rich by the time it got to the pot in another country.

About the time I remember my Grandmothers tea from, the leaves were broken, but into larger 'chunks', and shipped in big tea crates sealed with tin foil. The larger crates reduced the surface area to volume ratio, so the tea arrived fresh.

The smaller the leaf is broken, the richer the tea - if it can remain very fresh.

The best Ceylon tea is called 'Orange Pekoe' - OP, and when grown above 6,500 feet is considered (by some) to have the best flavours.

Broken Orange Pekoe - BOP is when the leaf is more broken up, and gives a darker and richer brew. It also contains a lot of leaf tips, which is where the flavours are most concentrated.

BOP Fannings, or BOPF is a finer grade again, with very small leaves and produces a very dark, rich and full bodied brew. Nana's tea, just as I remember it.

Vacuum packing allows that to happen because with it, very small leaves can retain their freshness for a very long time.

Depending on the area, the altitude and the plantation, the flavour will vary just like fine wine. The differences are apparent as subtle overtones of vanilla, mint, 'grassyness', 'earthyness' and even caramel and berry. Well, that is what I taste anyway.

Anywhere you go in Sri Lanka, you will always be offered tea. Never refuse - the Sri Lankan's know their tea and many come from, or have ties to, a family plantation and have access to what I think of as 'special family reserve' grades that you can't buy anywhere. You are going to be in for a treat every time.

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