This is Part 2 of Dananjaya Silva’s post about the history of tea in Ceylon (Sri Lanka). Follow the link to read Part 1: Canny Scots.
By the late 1850’s 80,000 acres of inaccessible jungle had been felled and the land planted with coffee. By 1867 Ceylon briefly became the worlds largest exporter of coffee. This was the height and heyday of the Ceylon coffee industry.
A small rust coloured powdery patch (Hemileia vastatrix) on the coffee leaves was first noted on the outlying plantations in 1869. This disease was first ignored as the opening up of jungle was continued, while the effects on yield per bush were masked. The disease that started on a few outlying plantations spread its way through 250,000 acres of cultivated land, ruining the estates and the lives of the men who had risked it all. Many of these once proud men packed up and left Ceylon, financially and mentally broken. Yet others carried on with their pioneering spirit, by uprooting every single coffee bush and replanting with tea.
Coffee planter, tea planter & pioneer
Well before the coffee collapse, tea seeds of Assamica Jat were sent from the Botanical Gardens in Calcutta (modern-day Kolkatta) to the Peredeniya Botanical Gardens near Kandy in the late 1830’s. Small experimental plantings were conducted. Some of the more enterprising coffee planters planted patches of tea on their estates. Most, however, were gripped by coffee mania.
Mr. James Taylor from Laurencekirk, Kincardineshire Scotland, undertook the first commercial planting of tea. Loolecondra estate near Kandy is the original home of Ceylon tea. On Loolecondra, the first seeds were planted and the initial manufacture of tea was conducted – not in a factory as you would today – but on Taylor’s bungalow veranda.
By 1867, the first shipments of tea were sent to the London auction and were declared to be as good as the flavours from China and India. Ceylon was brought into the world of tea, and the coffee men begun planting the hills of Ceylon with what is now a common sight.
As the collapse of coffee had left a lot of proprietors short of money, old coffee stores were turned into tea factories. Tea plantations required plucking to take place every day, requiring larger populations of workers to be recruited.
Tea machinery flowed into Colombo port from Britain’s industrial towns. “Davidsons of Belfast” and “Marshalls of Gainsborough” equipment was transported up the rickety roads; elephants became invaluable means of transport for creating the modern estates.
As the crop of tea steadily increased, the need for purposefully-built tea factories was realized. Many of the factories found in the hills today are the very factories that were built by these men. In some cases, the original equipment is still used.
History in the Cup
The pioneering work of these men can be seen all over Sri Lanka’s high country. From the estate names, to the roads, to the economic opportunities that tea provides to Sri Lanka’s economy, the importance of these innovators is evident.
With the Commonwealth Games that have taken place in Glasgow, golf’s Ryder Cup in Gleneagles, and an independence referendum which failed last week, it is a big year for Scotland. Hopefully Scots – and people all over the world – can find the time to brew up some history in their cup this coming year.