Sri Lanka Ceylon tea industry is one of the most significant contributors to the country’s economy, with a rich history that dates back over a century. The following article explores the major events and milestones that shaped the tea industry in Sri Lanka, from its humble beginnings to becoming the world’s largest tea exporter.
The Pioneer – James Taylor
James Taylor, a Scotsman, arrived in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1852 and settled at the Loolecondera Estate in Galaha. In 1867, he started a 19-acre tea plantation on the estate, laying the foundation for what would become Sri Lanka’s largest export industry.
The Birth of Ceylon Tea
In 1872, a fully equipped tea factory started operating on the Loolecondera Estate. The tea produced there was of high quality, and in 1873, Ceylon Tea made its international debut when James Taylor sent twenty-three pounds of tea to London.
Rapid Growth of Tea Industry
During the 1880s, tea production in Sri Lanka grew rapidly. Planters from all over the hill country visited Loolecondera to learn the basics of growing and manufacturing tea. By the late 1880s, almost all the coffee plantations had been converted to tea as it was seen as a more lucrative alternative.
Advancements in Technology
Technologies such as the Sirocco tea dryer in 1877 and the tea-rolling machine in 1880 made commercial tea production viable, leading to an increase in tea cultivation.
The First Colombo Tea Auction
In 1883, with the backing of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, the first of many public Colombo tea auctions was held on the property of Somerville & Co. This gave tea producers direct access to buyers, establishing Ceylon Tea as a premium product in the global market.
Expansion of Tea Production
In 1884, the Central Tea Factory was built on the Fairyland Estate (Pedro) in Nuwara Eliya. By 1899, nearly 400,000 acres of land was already under tea cultivation, and the Colombo Tea Traders Association was founded in 1894, followed by the formation of the Colombo Tea Brokers’ Association in 1896.
The Tea Research Institute
In 1925, the Tea Research Institute was established to improve production techniques and maximize yields. As a result, by the end of this period, Sri Lanka was producing more than 100,000 metric tons of tea, mainly for export.
Other Key Milestones
In 1932, the Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board was established to promote Ceylon Tea globally. The world’s largest tea bush, which yielded four pounds of tea leaves in a day, was discovered in Ceylon in 1934. In 1955, the cultivation of the first clonal tea fields began, which is a method of controlling plant breeding to produce the best strains of tea.
Sri Lanka Becomes the Largest Tea Exporter
In 1965, Sri Lanka became the world’s largest exporter of tea. The industry continues to thrive, with tea being the country’s main agricultural export. Today, Sri Lanka produces over 300 million kilograms of tea annually, with tea accounting for over 10% of the country’s GDP.
The history of Sri Lanka’s tea industry is a fascinating story of innovation, perseverance, and hard work. From humble beginnings to becoming the world’s largest tea exporter, the industry has come a long way, with many challenges and opportunities along the way. With its unique climate, geography, and people, Sri Lanka’s tea industry remains a shining example of what can be achieved through hard work and determination.