Unbelievably, Ceylon tea Sri lanka hasn't always been the principle export of Sri Lanka.
In fact, until the 1860's it was coffee. If it hadn't been for a coffee-rot fungus
(Hemileia vastatrix) killing the majority of Sri Lanka's coffee plants, the story
of Ceylon tea could be a lot different. The ruinous fungus forced Ceylon estate
owners to diversify their crops with many turning to the cultivation of the
unaffected original Ceylon tea.
The Original Ceylon Tea Cultivation
In 1866 Scotsman James Taylor acquired knowledge of tea cultivation in North India and on
his return to Sri Lanka, he began the original Ceylon tea plantation in 1867. These first
tea seeds sown in Sri Lanka were planted in what is now field number 7 of the
Loolecondera Estate, Kandy, and covered just 19 acres of land. Taylor experimented
with tea cultivation and leaf manipulation in order to obtain the best possible
flavour from the tea leaves.
The first pure Ceylon tea produced by Taylor was sold locally in Sri Lanka and proclaimed delicious.
By 1873 Taylor's high quality original Ceylon teas were sold at the London auction for a
very good price. Pure Ceylon tea cultivation began to flourish in Sri Lanka. Over the next
seven years pure Ceylon tea exports rose from 23 pounds to 81.3 tons, and by 1890, just ten
years later, to a staggering 22,900 tons.
Pure Ceylon Tea Cultivation after James Taylor
Taylor died in 1892, but the history of Ceylon tea did not end there.
By the late 1880s almost all of Sri Lanka's coffee plantations had been
converted to tea. And in 1899, Sri Lanka had almost 400,000 acres
dedicated to tea cultivation to meet the demand for the high quality
of pure Ceylon tea.
Advancement of Pure Ceylon Tea Production
The progression of original Ceylon tea production throughout the history of
Ceylon tea went hand in hand with technological and organizational advances.
In 1894 the Ceylon Tea Traders Association was formed and even today virtually
all tea produced in Sri Lanka is conducted through this association as well as
the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. In 1896 the Colombo Brokers' Association was formed.
Then in 1915, Mr Thomas Amarasuriya became the first Ceylonese to be appointed as
Chairman of the Planters' Association.
By 1925, it was deemed necessary to research production methods and attempt to
maximise yields so the Tea Research Institute was established in Ceylon. After two years,
tea production in Sri Lanka exceeded 100,000 metric tons, almost entirely for export.
The high quality of original Ceylon tea was protected in 1934 by a law prohibiting the
export of poor quality tea.
By 1965, less than 100 years since the original Ceylon tea estate was founded, Sri Lanka became the
world's largest tea exporter for the first time. Between 1971 and 1972, the Sri Lankan government
nationalised tea estates owned by British companies. These were privatised again 20 years later in
1993. By the year 2000, Ceylon tea production had grown to over 300,000 metric tons. Currently,
the Ceylon tea sector employs over 1 million people in Sri Lanka, directly or indirectly.
Sri Lanka guarantees the country of origin and protects the image of Sri
Lanka's quality teas through the Lion logo, developed by the Ceylon Tea Board.
Only products containing 100% pure Ceylon tea can use the Lion logo.
About Ceylon Tea Production
Throughout the history of Ceylon tea, the estate workers have been at the heart of production.
Every day some 300,000 estate workers in Sri Lanka pluck millions of tea leaves by hand. Original
Ceylon tea ensures its high quality through this human care, unlike many other countries where tea
leaves are picked by machine. This ensures that only the bud and the two tender uppermost leaves
are plucked; these have the flavour and aroma. Other coarse leaves or twigs only add bulk to the
tea, not flavour.
The plucked leaves are left to wither in a hot room. Then juices are released by placing them
in a machine to roll the leaves. These juices react with the air (oxidation)
giving black teas colour and flavour.
The tea is then dried in ovens (fired) and graded according to colour and particle
sizes under the supervision of experienced quality controllers. Anything not up to the high
standards required by Ceylon tea products is rejected.