Early Story of Ceylon Tea
Cinnamon was the first crop to receive government sponsorship in Ceylon, while the island was under Dutch control. During the administration of Dutch governor Iman Willem Falck, cinnamon plantations were developed in Colombo, Maradana, and Cinnamon Gardens in 1769. The first British governor Frederick North prohibited private cinnamon plantations, thereby securing monopoly on cinnamon plantations for the East India Company. However, an economic slump in the 1830s in England and elsewhere in Europe affected the cinnamon plantations in Ceylon. This resulted in them being decommissioned by William Colebrooke in 1833. Finding cinnamon unprofitable, the British turned to coffee.
By 1825 the Ceylonese already had knowledge of coffee. They started planting coffee as a garden crop and the first coffee plantation was started in Baddegama in Galle District. Although this venture failed due to the unsuitability of the area for the crop, George Bird became the first to start planting coffee on a commercial scale. After Bird began his coffee plantation in Singhapitiya, Gampola, governor Edward Barnes also started a plantation in Gannoruwa. The demand and high price in the European market for coffee fueled the rush of coffee planting. Investors flocked to Ceylon from overseas and around 100,000 ha (386 sq mi) of rain forest was cleared to pave the way for coffee plantations. The term \"Coffee rush\" was coined to describe this developing situation in 1840. In 1869 the coffee industry was still thriving in Ceylon but shortly afterwards, coffee plantations were devastated by a fungal disease called Hemileia vastatrix or coffee rust, better known as \"coffee leaf disease\" or \"coffee blight\". The planters nicknamed the disease \"devastating Emily\" when it was first identified in the Madolsima area in 1869. Production dipped rapidly as the disease set in and every effort failed to revive coffee production. Of 1700 coffee planters, only 400 remained on the island as the rest left for their home countries. The coffee crop died, marking an end of an era when most of the plantations on the island were dedicated to producing coffee beans. Planters experimented with cocoa and cinchona as alternative crops but failed due to a bug, Heloplice antonie, so that in the 1870s virtually all the remaining coffee planters in Ceylon switched to the production and cultivation of tea. By the year 1900, only 11,392 acres (46 km2) were still under coffee cultivation.
Sir James Taylor – The father of the Ceylon tea industry
Sir James Taylor, first planted tea commercially in 1867, two years before the coffee blight. The first shipment of 23 pounds of tea took place in 1872, and today the country exports around 300 million kilograms of tea to all corners of the world, and also has the distinction of conducting the largest tea auctions in the world, which has been in operation since 1883.
Today, Sri Lanka is known as the largest exporter of tea to the world, and hence, Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka is often acclaimed as the best tea in the world. Also, reputed for the excellent quality of conventional and organic tea, low and high grown, from some of the finest tea gardens in the world, and blended to perfection. Influence of climatic conditions of its plantation allows for a variety of flavours and aromas, synonymous with quality of the final product.
All around the world, connoisseurs of tea clamored for Ceylon tea which soon became a household reference for the finest quality tea. It acquaints that the Sri Lankan population starts and ends the day with a cup of tea because it has qualities to refresh the hearts and minds and acts as a catalyst.
The tea cultivating industry in Sri Lanka has always been a vital component of the overall Sri Lankan economy. The Sri Lankan tea industry employs approximately one million people, thus also contributing significantly to the country\\\'s gross domestic product as well as government revenue. The total extent of Sri Lankan land under tea cultivation has been assessed at approximately 187,400 hectares. Tea production is a year round phenomenon and cultivation is usually concentrated in the central highlands and the southern inland areas of the island. Ceylon tea consists of a combination of distinctive, fine rich yet mellow flavor, bright and golden color that appeals to tea drinkers throughout the world.