New Vithanakande is a staff favorite ceylon. It smells of honey, unsweetened chocolate and lofty apricot notes. When steeped, the cup becomes a bit more intense rather than sweet with a lemony astringency backing the raw cocoa notes.
Sri Lanka’s low-grown teas are generally poor; the region lies only three hundred feet above sea level, and in the tropical heat and humidity, the teas become dark and unremarkable. Most are sold for negligible amounts as bulk teas. To make any money, the low-altitude Ratnapura district tea gardens had to innovate. Some entrepreneurs figured out a way to keep the tips white, and now the district is famous for its silver tippy teas. New Vithanakande is the best of the bunch, with small leaves like most Broken Orange Pekoe teas, yet flowery with the most unlikely of black tea components; silver tips. Ordinarily, tea tips turn golden yellow during black tea production. New Vithanakande preserves the tips’ silver hue.
The tea makers begin by withering the leaves very briefly, then rolling them for just fifteen minute, using hardly any pressure on the leaves. Instead of rolling them on a table between pressurized disks, they pour the leaves into a vertical cylinder with a sieve at the base. As the cylinder slowly spins, the leaves rub up against and lightly macerate one another. Kept whole and undamaged, the tips don’t oxidize while the rest of the leaves do. Thus the tips stay a shiny silver.
As the leaves jostle about, the finest, smallest and most delicate ones fall through the sieve. The rest of the leaves – about 99.5% – are transferred to a rolling machine to become ordinary bulk low-grown tea. The smallest and most delicate leaves are left to oxidize for about two hours, much more than most Ceylon teas. They are also blasted with moist air of the sort that jets from a humidifier. This moist air may provoke the leaves to form their characteristic cocoa and chocolate flavors. Like Keemuns, the New Vithanakande teas are fired at a hotter temperature than other Ceylon teas, which likely creates a Maillird reaction to reinforce the cocoa flavors.
After firing, the tea makers spread out the leaves on a fine-mesh strainer and sort through them by hand! Every other BLT (British Legacy Tea) is processed entirely by machine but the makers of New Vithanakande sift the leaves, gently working the smallest particles through the strainer. The silver tips are larger and remain with the tea; the smaller golden tips fall through to the floor. The result is a delicious, surprisingly engaging low-grown tea, as beautiful to look at as it is to drink.