Tea in Sri Lanka (Ceylon)

It was as far back as the year 1824 in which the British brought a tea plant from China to Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was known at the time). It was planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya and is considered to have been the first non-commercial tea plant in Sri Lanka.

Commercial Plantation

In 1867, James Taylor marked the birth of the tea industry in Ceylon by starting a tea plantation in the Loolecondera (Pronounced Lul-Ka(n)dura in Sinhala -ලූල් කඳුර ) estate in Kandy in 1867. He was only 17 when he came to Loolkandura, Sri Lanka. The original tea plantation was just 19 acres (76,890 m2). In 1872 Taylor began operating a fully equipped tea factory on the grounds of the Loolkandura estate and that year the first sale of Loolecondra tea (Loolkandura) was made in Kandy. In 1873, the first shipment of Ceylon tea, a consignment of some 23 lb (10 kg), arrived in London. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle remarked on the establishment of the tea plantations, “…the tea fields of Ceylon are as true a monument to courage as is the lion at Waterloo”.
Soon enough plantations surrounding Loolkandura, including Hope, Rookwood and Mooloya to the east and Le Vallon and Stellenberg to the south, began switching over to tea and were among the first tea estates to be established on the island.

Growth and history of commercial production

Tea production in Ceylon increased dramatically in the 1880s and by 1888 the area under cultivation exceeded that of coffee, growing to nearly 400,000 acres (1,619 km2) in 1899.[16] The only Ceylonese planter to venture in to tea production at the early stage was Charles Henry de Soysa. British figures such as Henry Randolph Trafford arrived in Ceylon and bought coffee estates in places such as Poyston, near Kandy, in 1880, which was the centre of the coffee culture of Ceylon at the time. Although Trafford knew little about coffee, he had considerable knowledge of tea cultivation and is considered one of the pioneer tea planters in Ceylon. By 1883, Trafford was the resident manager of numerous estates in the area that were switching over to tea production. By the late 1880s, almost all the coffee plantations in Ceylon had been converted to tea. Similarly, coffee stores rapidly converted to tea factories in order to meet increasing demand. Tea processing technology rapidly developed in the 1880s, following on from the manufacture of the first “Sirocco” tea drier by Samuel Cleland Davidson in 1877 and the manufacture of the first tea rolling machine by John Walker & Co in 1880—essential technologies that made realizing commercial tea production a reality. This realization was confirmed in 1884 with the construction of the Central Tea Factory on Fairyland Estate (Pedro) in Nuwara Eliya. As tea production in Ceylon progressed, new factories were constructed and innovative methods of mechanization introduced from England. Marshall, Sons & Co. of Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, the Tangyes Machine Company of Birmingham, and Davidson & Co. of Belfast supplied the new tea factories with machinery, a function they continue to perform to the present.
Tea was increasingly sold at auction as its popularity grew.

The first public Colombo Auction was held on the premises of M/s Somerville and Company Limited on 30 July 1883, under the auspices of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. One million tea packets were sold at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. That same year the tea netted a record price of £36.15 per lb at the London Tea Auctions. In 1894 the Ceylon Tea Traders Association was formed and today virtually all tea produced in Sri Lanka is conducted through this association and the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. In 1896 the Colombo Brokers’ Association was formed and in 1915 Thomas Amarasuriya became the first Ceylonese to be appointed as Chairman of the Planters’ Association. In 1925 the Tea Research Institute was established in Ceylon to conduct research into maximising yields and methods of production. By 1927 tea production in the country exceeded 100,000 metric tons (110,231 short tons), almost entirely for export. A 1934 law prohibited the export of poor quality tea. The Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board was formed in 1932

In 1938 the Tea Research Institute commenced work on vegetative propagation at St. Coombs Estate in Talawakele, and by 1940 it had developed a biological control (a parasitic wasp, Macrosentus homonae) to suppress the Tea Tortrix caterpillar, which had threatened the tea crop. In 1941 the first Ceylonese tea broking house, M/s Pieris & Abeywardena, was established, and in 1944 the Ceylon Estate Employers’ Federation was founded. On October 1, 1951, an export duty on tea was introduced and in 1955 the first clonal tea fields began cultivation. In 1958, the State Plantations Corporation was established, and on June 1, 1959, Ad Valorem Tax was introduced for teas sold at the Colombo auctions
By the 1960s, Sri Lanka’s total tea production and exports exceeded 200,000 metric tons (220,462 short tons) and 200,000 hectares (772 sq mi), respectively, and in 1965 Sri Lanka became the world’s largest tea exporter for the first time. In 1963, the production and exports of Instant Teas was introduced, and in 1966 the first International Tea Convention was held to commemorate 100 years of the tea industry in Sri Lanka. During the 1971–1972 period, the government of Sri Lanka nationalized estates owned by Sri Lankan and British companies, taking over some 502 privately held tea, rubber and coconut estates, and in 1975 it nationalized the Rupee and Sterling companies.

Land reform in Sri Lanka meant that no cultivator was allowed to own more than 50 acres (202,343 m2) for any purpose. In 1976, the Sri Lanka Tea Board was founded as were such other bodies as the Janatha Estate Development Board (JEDB), Sri Lanka State Plantation Corporation (SLSPC) and the Tea Small Holding Development Authority (TSHDA) to supervise the estates thus appropriated by the state.[15] In 1976, the export of tea bags commenced

In 1980, Sri Lanka was the official supplier of tea at the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympic Games, in 1982 at the 12th Commonwealth Games in Brisbane and again in 1987 at Expo 88 in Australia. In 1981, the country began importing teas for blending and re-export and in 1982 commenced the production and export of green tea. In 1983, the CTC teas method was introduced. In 1992, the industry celebrated its 125th anniversary with an international convention in Colombo. On December 21, 1992, the Export Duty and Ad Valorem Tax were abolished and the Tea Research Board was established to further research into tea production. In 1992–1993 many of the government-owned tea estates which had been nationalized in the early 1970s were privatized to mainly Indian Conglomerates. The industry had incurred heavy losses under state management, and the government made the decision to return the plantations to private management, selling off its remaining 23 state-owned plantations
By 1996, Sri Lanka’s tea production had exceeded 250,000 metric tons (275,578 short tons), and by 2000 had grown to over 300,000 metric tons (330,693 short tons). In 2001, Forbes & Walker Ltd. launched the country’s first on-line tea sales at the Colombo Tea Auctions. A Tea Museum was established in Kandy and in 2002 the Tea Association of Sri Lanka was formed. According to the minister of plantation industries, Lakshman Kiriella, the Tea Association of Sri Lanka is “intended to transform the 135-year-old industry into a truly global force and facilitate a greater private sector role in strategy formulation, and implementation, and plantation industries”. The association, which works with those that preceded it in Sri Lanka, represents tea producers, traders, exporters, smallholders, private factory owners and brokers, and is funded largely through Asian Development Bank

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