DIYANILLAKELLE TEA ESTATE
Diyanillakelle is a lovely tea garden that extends over a 225-acre expanse of lush emerald-green vegetation within the mountainous region of Nuwara Eliya in the centre of Sri Lanka.
Tea growing at the estate dates back to the first wave of tea cultivation on the island over 150 years ago. In the early days, the garden was run by Scottish planters. Since then, it has passed through the hands of several Sri Lankan owners, and today is run by the Shriya family.
The latest chapter in the estate’s history is one of restoration and renewal. Five years ago, the current owners set about revitalising the garden to address dwindling output and stagnant tea prices.
Over this time. the garden has gone through a deep transformation. The fields down to every tea bush have been given careful attention from pruning to bush sanitation to produce exceptional raw materials and is slowly being converted to organic cultivation. The factory has been rebuilt, refitted, and transformed to a high quality and low quantity production line with custom made troughs and rollers and electric dryers.
Improving the quality of the leaf and production process to produce a better quality of tea, the sort that sells for high prices, offers Diyanakelle one way out of the falling commodity tea prices that has affected producers of tea in Sri Lanka in recent decades.
Diyanakillie is located at an altitude of 1370m. on the western slopes of the central highlands in Nuwarya Eliya. The area is synonymous with quality tea in Sri Lanka thanks to its high elevation, mountain soil, and cool temperature climate.
The garden is considered “high grown” which is an official designation in the tea world for the varieties grown high in the hills of Sri Lanka. The teas here are sweet, bright in colour, and their flavour is intense.
About 40% of the tea bushes at Diyanakelle are grown from seedlings and the rest is vegetatively propagated (i.e.by cuttings). The seedling tea grown with seeds is a mix (approx. 25%) of the Chinese variety the tea plant (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis) and the rest is the larger leafed Assam variety (Camellia sinensis var.assamica). Our Forest Noir is made from tea bushes sown from the seeds of the Chinese cultivar which gives it a subtle floral fragrance.
Tea grows all year around in Sri Lanka, but the best plucking seasons in Nuwara Eluaya are the dry months of April to May and then in November/ December. The lower rainfall and cooler temperatures around these times combine to create truly phenonomal teas with tropical fruit characters and a citric zestiness.
Today Sri Lanka is the world’s fourth largest producer of tea, but in the 1860s Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was known until it changed its name in 1972) was the world’s biggest producer of coffee. It was only after a fungus destroyed the country’s entire coffee crop that former coffee plantations switched their focus to tea.
Teas from Sri Lanka quickly became popular and sought after for their strong, robust and distinctive teas. Lowland teas were prized for their addition to blends such as English Breakfast whilst Highland teas were sought after for their quality as pure leaf teas such as Ceylon Orange Pekoe. Today, teas from Sri Lanka are still known as Ceylon teas.
Despite being the world’s largest exporter of teas by 1965, Sri Lanka’s tea industry was severely damaged in 1972 when the state nationalised tea estates and new land reforms meant that no independent grower could own more than 50 acres. Following this, the adoption of CTC (cut tear-curl) production methods and the proliferation of the teabag severely dented the reputation of fine Ceylon tea.
Despite the abandonment of many tea estates during the civil war (1983- 2009), the last decade has seen a revival of small holder estates and the regeneration of the Sri Lankan tea industry. Whilst much of the tea industry remains commodity driven, with small holders selling their tea to larger processing factories, estates like Amba are leading the way in picking and processing their own specialty teas.