| The story of Ceylon tea begins over two
hundred years ago, when the country that is now known
as Sri Lanka, was still a British colony. Coffee was the
dominant crop on the island, and intrepid British men
journeyed across oceans to begin a new life on coffee
However, coffee was not destined to succeed in Ceylon.
Towards the close of the 1860’s the coffee plantations
were struck by Hemileia Vostatrix, coffee rust, better
known as coffee leaf disease or ‘coffee blight’.
As the coffee crop died, planters switched to the production
and cultivation of tea.
Experimental planting of tea had already begun in 1839
in the botanical gardens of Peradeniya, close to the royal
city of Kandy. These plants had arrived from Assam and
Calcutta through the East India Company. Commercial cultivation
of tea commenced in
Ceylon in 1867. Reflecting on the bold initiative, Sir
Arthur Conan Doyle stated that,
“…the tea fields of Ceylon are as true a monument
to courage as is the lion at Waterloo”.
James Taylor, a Scotsman, played a significant role in
the development of Ceylon Tea.
A perfectionist by nature, Taylor experimented with tea
cultivation and leaf manipulation in order to obtain the
best possible flavour from the tea leaves. Taylor’s
methods were emulated by other planters and soon, Ceylon
Tea was being favourably received by buyers in London,
proving that tea could be a profitable plantation crop.
In 1872 the first official Ceylon tea was shipped to England
and contained two packages of 23lbs. The first recorded
shipment, however, was dispatched to England in 1877 aboard
the vessel The Duke of Argyll.
By the 1880s almost all the coffee plantations in Ceylon
had been converted to tea. British planters looked to
their counterparts at the East India Company and the Assam
Company in India for guidance on crop cultivation. Coffee
stores were rapidly converted to tea factories to meet
the demand for tea. As tea production in Ceylon progressed,
new factories were constructed and an element of mechanization
was introduced. Machinery for factories was brought in
from England. Marshals of Gainsborough – Lancashire,
Tangyes Machine Company of Birmingham, and Davidsons of
Belfast supplied machines that are in use even today.
As Ceylon tea gained in popularity throughout the world,
a need arose to mediate and monitor the sale of tea. An
auction system was established and on 30 July 1883 the
first public sale of tea was conducted. The Ceylon Chamber
of Commerce undertook responsibility for the auctions,
and by 1894 the Ceylon Tea Traders Association was formed.
Today almost all tea produced in Sri Lanka is conducted
by these two organizations.
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