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Birth of a delight – History of Ceylon tea & cultivation in Sri Lanka
 / Ceylon Tea  / Birth of a delight – History of Ceylon tea & cultivation in Sri Lanka
16 Apr

Birth of a delight – History of Ceylon tea & cultivation in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka tea history runs back to the time where Sri Lanka was a British colony named Ceylon, hence the name Ceylon Tea. The first tea plant in Sri Lanka Peradeniya Botanical Gardens is imported from China in 1824. It is the first non-commercial tea plant in the country. James Taylor planted 19 acres of tea in Loolecondra Estate, Kandy, in 1867 as the first commercial tea estate in Ceylon tea history. The establishment of this estate was a great step in Ceylon tea plantation history too. While the honour of introducing commercial tea plantation goes to James Taylor, there are important figures like Maysor Kade, E.R.Eagar, and E.P. Eastwood in the history of Ceylon tea planters.

Then throughout history, different people introduced different techniques and methods to plant and process tea which eventually paved the way to establish the name Ceylon tea Sri Lanka worldwide. There are few significant events that took place in Sri Lankan tea history as follows.

  • 1876 – Establishing the First broking firm John brothers & Co
  • 1839 – Establishing Ceylon chamber of commerce
  • 1883 – First public Colombo auction 
  • 1893 – Selling 1 million tea packets at Chicago World’s Fair
  • 1894 – Forming Colombo tea traders’ association
  • 1932 – The government prohibited the exportation of poor quality tea
  • 1952 – Starting Tea research institute
  • 1965 – Ceylon becomes the largest tea exporter in the world
  • 1976 – Starting the Sri Lanka Tea Board

Many other incidents help Ceylon spread its reputation around the world, such as the exportation of black and green tea bags respectively in 1976 and 1982. In 2000 Sri Lanka passed another milestone by exceeding 300000 metric tons of tea production.


Wanna know why is it called Ceylon tea and where is Ceylon? 

Sri Lanka started tea trading while they were still a British Colony. At that time, Sri Lanka’s name was “Ceylon”. Hence the tea exported from Ceylon became Ceylon tea. Ceylon is a tiny island situated in the Indian Ocean. The Palk Strait separates Ceylon and India. You will be amazed if you check out Ceylon (currently named Sri Lanka) on a map, that how this tiny island gives a mass production of the world’s finest tea. 

How is the Tea cultivation in Sri Lanka managed to produce the finest tea?

Tea is one of the main foreign incomes in the Sri Lankan economy. It highly contributes to the growth of the plantation industry in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka grows tea in many areas in the country, centring Kandy and Nuwara Eliya as the major tea growing areas in Sri Lanka. About 2220000 hectares of the country is covered with tea plantations. Badulla, Bandarawela, Haputale, Galle, Matara, Ratnapura, Kegalle are the other districts that contribute to the tea production in Sri Lanka. These areas belong to the central massif and its southern foothill, the main tea regions in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka has a workforce of tea laborers, especially ‘tea pluckers’ that practised the art of tea for generations. 5% of the Sri Lankan population works in the tea industry. Tea plucking in Sri Lanka is one of the wonders that help make Ceylon tea’s heavenly delight.  Sri Lankan tea, produced with great care and concern, is one of the best beverages you can enjoy in this lifetime. With Ceylon tea, you can enjoy the warm, homely feelings from anywhere and everywhere in the world.

Get an idea about the Tea estates in Sri Lanka.

There is a total number of 996 tea estates in Sri Lanka. They are distributed as 625 for Kandy district, 130 for Badulla District, 111 for Matale District, 40 for Kegalle District, 37 for Ratnapura District, 21 for Nuwara Eliya District, 21 for Kurunegala District, and 11 for Matara district. 

Waltrim Estate, Dikoya Estate, Carolina Estate, Tangakelle Estate and Wigton Estate are a few of the most popular tea estates in Sri Lanka. These tea states attract many foreigners. Many estates now have hotels or Bungalows that operate as restaurants for those who would love to have a fresh cup of Original Ceylon tea while enjoying the beautiful view. 

If you ever want to visit the most beautiful tea plantations Sri Lanka…

Sri Lanka has many beautifully maintained tea estates and plantations that would bring nothing but a pleasure to your eyes. The heavenly taste from Ceylon tea does come from places that look just like heaven. Here is a list of the most beautiful tea plantations in Sri Lanka if you ever decide to visit.

  • Ceylon Tea Trails
  • Clingendael
  • Kahanda Kanda
  • Living Koslanda Heritage
  • Taylors Hill

Don’t forget to enjoy a cup of tea wherever you may visit.

tea plantations on Sri Lanka

The outstanding performance of the Tea board Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan tea industry started growing dramatically a little after tea plantations were introduced in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is now in the business of mass production of tea, popular as Ceylon tea worldwide. Since tea became a significant part of the Sri Lankan economy, several acts and regulations were introduced to protect industry and the workers, inevitably forming the SLTB – Sri Lanka Tea Board. Starting from 1st January 1976, Sri Lanka Tea Board takes many measures to protect and spread the Ceylon Tea Empire around the world. The Sri Lankan Tea Board is responsible for managing the following activities.

  • Regulating the tea production.
  • Increasing the tea cultivation in Sri Lanka
  • Replanting and rehabilitating old tea plantations
  • Establishing and upgrading tea factories
  • Monitoring the activities of the tea factories

The tea board keeps their keen attention on everything from plucking plants to the products’ shipping to protect and maintain Ceylon tea quality. Except for the factories, Tea Board manages Shipments, warehouses and storages, exporters and blenders too. 

They also do marketing and promotions to spread the Ceylon tea brand around the world. To attain that goal, SLTB offers advice and assistance to exporters, traders, manufacturers and cultivators, as well as foreign buyers and brand owners. 

SLTB has 6 division to distribute its functions. 

The Head Office situated in Colombo carries out the administrative functions including planning, directing, coordinating, internal auditing, financial managing, and works as a resource centre.

The promotion division undertakes all the promoting, advertising and marketing activities locally and internationally. Circulating sales data and information also falls under this division.

The Market Intelligence & Resource Division’s job is to collect and analyse data and statistics from the industry to help make better plans and decisions for the Ceylon Tea industry’s betterment. Also, there is an export division to manage everything connected with disposing, warehousing, packaging, exporting and importing Ceylon tea. 

The Tea commissioner’s division has seven regional offices to manage cultivation, manufacture and quality development operations countrywide.

Tea Tasting Unit tests samples from every tea factory to make sure they have manufactured quality products. A panel of independent tasters gives the ‘Lion Logo that identifies the pure Ceylon Tea’ to the products that meet the standards.

The analytical laboratory test tea for any chemicals or pesticides and gives the ISO/IEC 17025 to standard tea products.

Choose your cup of tea from Sri Lanka tea types.

Ceylon Tea established its dominance in the tea world with Ceylon Black Tea. Sri Lankan black tea has its own unique, bright and bold taste that refreshes the body and soul. Many people use Ceylon black tea as an evening beverage but anytime is perfect for enjoying a fine cup of tea. English breakfast, English afternoon, Irish breakfast, Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong, Spiced Masala, Rose and French Vanilla, and Black tea with berries are a few of the many Ceylon black tea types you can enjoy. Ceylon tea also produces a traditional Chinese tea type called “Oolong tea”.

Green tea is another Ceylon tea type that is quite popular around the world. You can have classic green tea, organic green tea, real leaf green tea, Jasmin green tea, mint green tea, Lemongrass green tea and many other herbal green teas.

White tea is an exclusive, expensive type of tea produced in Sri Lanka. Tea buds are only plucked at dawn to make white tea. It is a handmade tea that has a light and subtle flavour. Real white tea, Ceylon silver tips, White litchee hand-rolled tea and Jade butterfly handmade white are the types of Ceylon white tea.

Ceylon cup of tea

The subtle art of Sri Lanka tea production

As mentioned several times in this article, Sri Lanka has a very experienced and skilled workforce working on the tea plantation. The production and tea processing in Sri Lanka is different from one tea type to another. The skilful workforce carefully plucks fresh tea leaves and cleans them. From there, the processes takes places according to the tea type.

Black tea

  1. Withering
  2. Rolling
  3. Full fermentation
  4. Firing and drying
  5. Sorting

Green Tea

  1. Pan Frying or Steaming
  2. Pre Drying
  3. Rolling
  4. Post drying
  5. Shaping and styling

Oolong tea

  1. Withering
  2. Rolling
  3. Short fermentation
  4. Firing and drying
  5. Sorting

Workers do everything by hand to make White tea. They only use the tea buds to make white tea. 



Who introduced tea to Sri Lanka?

After the exportation of the first non-commercial tea plant from China in 1824, James Taylor planted 19 acres of tea in Loolecondra Estate, Kandy, in 1867 as the first commercial tea estate in Sri Lanka. James Tylor was a Scottish tea planter. Scottish merchant Thomas Lipton partnered with James Tylor to develop the Sri Lankan tea industry.

Who was WB Jackson?

W.B. Jackson worked as the manager of many companies and estates connected with Ceylon tea. In 1880 he managed Woodlake estate and Hauteville Group. In the same year, he joined St George estate as the manager. From 1880 to 1890, he served St George as the manager of the company. In 1891 he joined the Freshwater as the manager while still serving St George too. In 1904 he started managing Helbeck estate as well.

Is tea native to Sri Lanka?

Tea is not a native plant in Sri Lanka. The first tea plant planted in Sri Lanka came from China. Then James Tylor and many after that imported and grew tea plants.


How to grow tea plant in Sri Lanka?

Tea plants like draining soil like ericaceous. They need bright sunlight but also a partial shade. You can plant tea plants from either seeds or plants. Sri Lankans prefer to take plants rather than seeds since seeds have germinating problems. Sri Lankans grow tea in upcountry and hillsides because the landscaping provides the needs of the plants well.

How to export tea from Sri Lanka?

You have to be registered with the Sri Lanka Export Development Board to start exporting tea. Also, your tea products have to be tested and certified with the Sri Lankan Tea Board. GSP certificate, Quality Certificate, Health Certificate, Phytosanitary Certificate, Fumigation Certificate are the other certificates you must acquire if you want to start exporting tea.

What kind of tea is Ceylon Tea?

Ceylon tea is a tea with a unique, bold taste. It has a subtle difference in taste depending on where it is grown in the country. Ceylon tea has many types and an extensive range of flavours to best serve all its customers’ needs and tastes. Ceylon tea is a one of a kind tea that you cannot enjoy from any other tea in the world. It has many health benefits as well.

What temperature should Ceylon tea?

We can serve Ceylon tea as either iced tea or warm tea, depending on the mood. Though warm tea has been popular for many generations, there is a trending demand for iced tea as well. When brewing warm tea, let it cool to around 75 degrees for green tea, around 85 degrees for Oolong tea and 90-95 degrees for black tea to make the perfect cup of tea.

Always store your tea in a place that has a temperature of less than 30-degrees celsius. 

Where did Ceylon tea originate?

The first step towards the Sri Lankan tea industry was planting the first tea plant back in 1824 at the Botanical garden of Peradeniya. Then James Tylor planted the Loolecondra Estate, Kandy, in 1867. Taylor established the first tea factory in Ceylon. He invented a machine for tea rolling. Taylor also trained several people to carry out the tea production, resulting in Ceylon tea being a regular product in London and Melbourne Markets.



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