Tea Gastronomy


By 1825 the Ceylonese already had a knowledge of coffee. They started planting coffee as a garden crop and the first coffee plantation was started in Baddegama in Galle District. The demand and high price in the European market for coffee fueled the rush of coffee planting. The coffee plantations were devastated by a fungal disease called Hemileiavastatrix or coffee rust, better known as "coffee leaf disease" or "coffee blight".

Thus the birth of Ceylon Tea History took place in the demise of Coffee in the island.

  • In 1839, Dr. Wallich, head of the botanical garden in Calcutta, sent several Assam tea plant seeds to the Peradeniya estates in Kandy district. Seeds of Chinese tea plants, brought to Sri Lanka by travelers such as Maurice de Worms, were also planted in the Peradeniya nurseries although these yielded disappointing results, and Chinese plants were gradually abandoned in favor of the Assam variety that is now grown on every estate in Sri Lanka.

    In 1867, James Taylor marked the birth of the tea industry in Ceylon by starting a tea plantation in Loolecondera estate in Kandy in 1867. He began the tea plantation on an estate of just 19 acres (76,890 m 2). In 1872 he started a fully equipped tea factory in the same Loolecondera estate and that year the first sale of Loolecondra tea was made in Kandy. In 1873, the first shipment of Ceylon tea, a consignment of some 23 lb (10 kg), arrived in London.

    The total population in Sri Lanka according to the census of 1871 was 2,584,780. The 1871 demographic distribution and population in the plantation areas is given below:

    Kandy District , the heartland of tea production in Sri Lanka

    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. The first tea rolling machine by John Walker & Co in 1880 set the conditions that would be required to make commercial tea production a reality. This was consolidated in 1884 with the construction of the Central Tea Factory on Fairyland Estate (Pedro) in Nuwara Eliya.

    Tea was increasingly sold at auction as its popularity grew. The first public Colombo Auction was held at the premises of Somerville & Co. 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 established 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. In 1925 the Tea Research Institute was established in Ceylon to conduct research into maximizing 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.

    In 1941 the first Ceylonese tea broking house, M/s Pieris & Abeywardena, was established.

    By the 1960s the total tea production and exports exceeded 200,000 metric tons (220,462 short tons) and 200,000 hectares (772 sq mi), and by 1965 Sri Lanka became the world's largest tea exporter for the first time.

    In 1976 the Sri Lanka Tea Board was founded. It was in 1976 that the export of tea bags also commenced.

    In 1980 Sri Lanka became 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.

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