When you ask Vodka, world will direct you towards Russia, when you ask Whiskey, world will direct you towards Scotland …
But when you ask for tea, you already know the direction … Yes, it is Ceylon, Sri Lanka … Ceylon Tea …
For over 150 years, the name Ceylon tea has been the popular brand synonym with premium quality tea all over the world. Brought into the island in 1824 to be planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, not for any plantation purposes but only for non-commercial purpose of botanical value, the plant has travelled an interesting journey to be at its place today.
Being the world’s largest coffee producer by the time, Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon a British governed colony, has not seen a significant importance about the plant. However, the tables have turned with the disastrous coffee rust disease which wiped out the entire coffee industry from the island surface for good.
It was a fortuitous timing indeed that the estate manager of Loolecondera Estate, a well renowned coffee plantation by the time, was suggested by owners long before the disaster took over the coffee industry that they should try and experiment on this plant, Tea.
In 1866, the first step was taken when the estate manager, James Taylor, a Scottish born official planted tea seeds collected from the Peradeniya Botanical Garden along the edge of the estate to cover up the lost plantation due to the deceased coffee plants. It took only 12 months’ time to the birth of the first tea estate of Sri Lanka expanding over 19 acres.
Marking the beginning of a marvelous tale, the industry has kicked off with Taylor operating Loolecondera as a fully fledged tea factory. This makes James Taylor the father of Ceylon tea, which the first commercial sale of Ceylon tea was made in 1872 in Kandy for two 23-pound weighed tea packs. With the establishment of ‘The Maskeliya Planter’s Association’, the industry took its turn towards a more commercially fertile outlook.
The year 1873 marked the first export of tea out of the island which consisted of 23 pounds (10Kgs), which was directed towards London and was valued at a price of Rs. 58. Same year marked the founding of Taylor’s first Tea house, where he invented a tea leaf roller, which the machine was powered by a water wheel of 20ft. Developing the concept, the first commercial tea rolling machine was invented and produced by Walker Brothers at their firm. John Walker & Co. The growing popularity of Ceylon Tea all over the world has led to its first public auction on 30th July 1883 at Somerville and Co, which was located in Queen Street, which is now called Janadhipathi Mawatha. The fairly successful auction ended with a lot of un-assorted tea from Kabaragala Estate sold for 45 cents a pound, where the rest were remained unsold.
John Walker took the initiative in building the country’s first central tea factory in Fairyland Estate, Mount Pedro in 1884 with the ownership of J A Rossiter. Ten years down the line, in 1894 the ‘Ceylon Tea Traders Association’ was established which by the time both growing and the manufacturing of tea remained at large. With the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce presenting, Ceylon Tea Traders Association were the body conducted all the tea produced in the country.
In 1915, the first Sri Lankan chairman was appointed for the Planter’s Association by a parliamentary act in 1916 incorporated the body. The association established The Tea Research Institute in 1925 as their research arm in order to run research and tests to boost the crops and techniques of producing tea. The institute became the only national body the country has performing research and producing, publishing farming and administering procedures related to tea industry.
The growing foreign demand has led the country to expand the tea cultivation event to low elevation areas by 1927, which the entire tea production of the country expanded over 100,000 metric tons, which nearly the total production is for export purpose. While the mild warmth, dampness and high precipitation in high country increased the premium quality of the tea, Matara, Galle and Ratnapura area of low elevation develops high level of astringent properties due to the warm temperature and high drizzles.
With the industry blooming day by day, the first Sri Lankan tea broking firm was established in 1941, M S Pieris and Abeywerdena. Industry’s major success has benefited immensely towards the country as development in multiple areas from transportation, technology to economy was seen clearly. The impact was interconnected and mutual as both the industry and country evolved parallelly.
With the introduction of instant tea in 1965, Sri Lanka for the first time has become the largest tea exporter of the world. The success was backed by many throughout the line from the workers, tea pluckers, auctioneers, engineers, exporters and etc. Founding of Sri Lanka Tea board in 1976, government nationalized the industry and overlook to drive towards state attention. The same year marked the beginning of exporting tea bags. The year 1980 marked a special milestone as Ceylon Tea and Sri Lanka became the supplier and the brand of tea at Moscow Summer Olympics.
With the Sri Lankan national cricket team winning the world cup in 1996, the only thing the world known about Sri Lanka is our premium quality Ceylon Tea. By the time, the total tea production of the country has reached over 250,000 metric tons. By 2013, renowned for its unique taste and aroma, the country was ranked fourth in world tea produce and the first in tea exporting. Being a test product at its beginning to alternate a lost cultivation, Ceylon Tea has come a long, glorious and a remarkable journey from its arrival to the country in 1824 completing over 150 years till the date. Sri Lanka’s foremost export product earning over USD 1 billion of annual revenue, Ceylon Tea contributed heavily towards the nation from every aspect of it.