Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)
Exploring the intro of ‘Ceylon Tea’ to the world
Known to be the 2nd most consumed beverage in the world after water, ‘Tea’, an aromatic liquid refreshment is popular among humankind for its stimulating effect when consumed. First popularized as a recreational drink in China’s Tang dynasty in the 6th century, the beverage spread with increasing fame to other Asian countries.
With Portuguese trade merchants introducing it to Europe in the 16th century; drinking tea became fashionable among the English, who started to plant tea on a large scale in British-india.
How tea ‘took off’ in Sri Lanka
The tea industry, presently a key economic sector for Sri Lanka was first pioneered in 1867 by Scottish Tea planter James Taylor-fondly referred as the “Father of the Ceylon Tea Industry”.
Arriving and settling down in ‘British Ceylon’ in 1852, as a 17-yearold, Taylor billeted in Loolkandura Estate, a coffee plantation located at present day Rikillagaskada, Central province.
Spelled in British English as Loolcandera Estate, the property is now known in the country as the first tea plantation estate in Sri Lanka.
In what can be also called as a fortuitous timing, Taylor’s determination to initiate the cultivation of tea in the Loolkandura estate is documented in Sri Lanka’s history to have enabled a new leading industry of the country to hastily and timely replace an old leading one.
During the decade between 18601870, Ceylon’s coffee plantation dealt with the onset of the coffee rust disease. By the end of the decade, the epidemic of this disease had almost decimated all the coffee plantations of the country.
Taylor credits Mr. Nobel, an Indian tea planter from Cacher who had visited a neighboring coffee estate to the Loolkandura estate where according to Taylor, had shown him “the way to pluck, wither and roll a little leaf growing in some old tea bush” in Taylor’s own bungalow garden.
Afterwards visiting North India in the year 1866, Taylor is said to have consulted many people with experience, especially several planters in Assam to study and learn about growing tea.
He began his commercial tea plantation in 1867 by sowing tea seeds, which were reportedly bought from Assam, in a small 19-acre plot in the estate.
In what can be called as a long period of trial and error, some of Taylors initial experiments in manufacturing tea were conducted using his own estate bungalow verandah where the tea leaves were rolled by hand in tables. The oxidized leaf was then fired on clay stoves setup above charcoal fires with the leaves being placed on wire trays.
This pure hand-manufactured tea was tested out by selling it in the local market where it was declared delicious by its consumers.
To meet the growing demand for his product, more equipment was introduced into his tea house where the first tea roller machine built in Sri Lanka-credited it to be Taylors own invention, was also used. By 1872, Taylor pioneered a fully equipped tea factory in Loolkandura estate, the first one to be installed in the country.
A year later, in 1873 a batch of tea produced from the factory- also known to be the ‘First Shipment of Ceylon Tea’ was dispatched to the London Tea Auction. The batch of tea is documented to be weighed 23 pounds and were packed into 2 small packs. This quality tea was reportedly sold at the overseas auction for a very good price.
Afterwards tea production in the Loolkandura Estate and thereby in the country expanded rapidly. By 1890 Ceylon’s tea production rose to almost 23 tons from mere 23 pounds.
This rapid expansion of the country’s tea industry brought a good deal of interest from large British companies, which took over small estates. Notably among these tea estate buyers was British Billionaire, Thomas. J. Lipton- a name almost a synonym for Ceylon tea.
Striking a few business deals with Taylor, Lipton’s company purchased tea produced in Ceylon and sought to distribute it in Europe and the United States.
Being a reputed grocer who owned a chain of 300 grocery stores in Britain alone, Lipton aspired to make tea which was very expensive in his country at the time affordable for an average shopper. He reduced his production cost by cutting out a number of middlemen involved in the trade and began packaging the tea in eye-catching bright-coloured packets. These packets bore the slogan “Straight from the tea gardens to the tea pot”.
Soon Lipton’s endeavou was a huge success and his stores could not keep up with the demand for his inexpensive product. Lipton teas then became available in other stores and his name eventually became a trademark famous all over the world.
The status of tea in present day Sri Lanka
With its vast history Sri Lanka is tagged as an island made for tea. Today the country produces almost 340 million kilograms of tea per year and satisfies over 11% of the global demand for the beverage.
4% of the country’s land area amounting to nearly 203,000 hectares is covered in tea plantations mainly concentrated to the central highlands and southern inland areas of the island.
In 2019, Sri Lanka was listed as the 4th largest tea producer and the 3rd largest tea exporter in the world. Sri Lanka also holds a reputation around the globe as a leading country with the capability to produce the ‘cleanest tea’. The distinct flavour of the product (which the experts conclude) is governed by the tea leaves being exclusively ‘hand-picked’ according to the 2 leaves and bud method has helped the industry to maintain the highest quality in the global tea market.
In a local context the tea industry is cited to be a main source of foreign exchange to the country, and accounts for 2% of Sri Lanka’s Gross Domestic Production. In 2022, the contribution of the avenue to the country’s economy was amounted to US$1.27 billion.
Being a reputed grocer who owned a chain of 300 grocery stores in Britain alone, Lipton aspired to make tea which was very expensive in his country at the time affordable for an average shopper. He reduced his production cost by cutting out a number of middlemen involved in the trade and began packaging the tea in eye-catching bright-coloured packets. These packets bore the slogan “Straight from the tea gardens to the tea pot”