Ceylon Tea History by CTM

Posted on August 24, 2013 at 9:00 PM

Tea production in Ceylon increased dramatically in the 1880s and by 1888 the area under cultivation had exceeded that of coffee, growing to nearly 400,000 acres in 1899. British figures such as Henry Randolph Trafford arrived in Ceylon and bought coffee estates in places such as Poyston, near Kandy in 1880, which was the centre of the coffee culture of Ceylon at the time. However, he knew little about coffee but had considerable knowledge in regards to tea cultivation and he is considered one of the pioneer tea planters in Ceylon. By 1883, Trafford was the resident manager of numerous estates in the area, now switching to tea production. By the late 1880s almost all the coffee plantations in Ceylon had been converted to tea, following the example, with coffee stores rapidly converted to tea factories to meet the increasing demand for tea. Technology developed in the 1880s with the manufacture of the first "Sirocco" tea drier by Samuel C. Davidson in 1877 and the manufacture of 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 Fairy land Estate (Pedro) in Nuwara Eliya. As tea production in Ceylon progressed, new factories were constructed introducing innovative methods of mechanization brought in from England. Marshals of Gainsborough of Lancashire, the Tangyes Machine Company of Birmingham, and Davidsons of Belfast supplied the new tea factories with machinery which they still supply today.

Tea steadily began being sold at auction as it increased in popularity. 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 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 and in 1915 Thomas Amarasuriya, became the first Ceylonese to be appointed as Chairman of the Planters' Association. In 1925 the Tea Research Institute was established in Ceylon to conduct research into maximising yields and methods of production. By 1927 tea production in the country exceeded 100,000 metric tons, almost entirely for export. A 1934 law prohibited the export of poor quality tea. The Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board was formed in 1932.

In 1938 the Tea Research Institute commenced work on vegetative propagation at St. Coombs Estate in Talawakele, and in 1940 it developed immunity to the threatening Tea Tortrix Caterpillar to protect the crops. In 1941 the first Ceylonese tea broking house, M/s Pieris & Abeywardena was established and in 1944 the Ceylon Estate Employers' Federation was founded. On October 1, 1951, export duty on tea was introduced and in 1955 the first clonal tea fields began cultivation. In 1958 the State Plantations Corporation was established and on June 1, 1959, Ad Valorem Tax was introduced for teas sold at the Colombo auctions.

By the 1960s the total tea production and exports exceeded 200,000 metric tons and 200,000 hectares and by 1965 Sri Lanka became the world's largest tea exporter for the first time. In 1963 the production and exports of Instant Teas was introduced and in 1966 the first International Tea Convention was held to commemorate 100 years of the tea industry in Sri Lanka. In the early 1970s, 1971–1972, the government of Sri Lanka nationalised the tea estates owned by the British companies. The state took over some 502 tea, rubber and coconut privately owned estates and in 1975 nationalised the Rupee and sterling companies. Land reform in Sri Lanka, meant that no cultivator was allowed to own 50 acres for any purpose. In 1976 the Sri Lanka Tea Board was founded as was other bodies such as the Janatha Estate Development Board (JEDB), Sri Lanka State Plantation Corporation (SLSPC) and the Tea Small Holding Development Authority (TSHDA) to overlook their acquired estates. It was in 1976 that the exports 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. In 1981, the import of teas for blending and re-exports was introduced and in 1982 to production and export of green tea commenced in Sri Lanka. CTC teas commenced in the country in 1983. In 1992 the 125th anniversary of the industry was celebrated in an international convention in Colombo. On December 21, 1992 Export Duty and Ad Valorem Tax were abolished and the Tea Research Board established to further research into tea production. In 1992-1993 many of the government-owned tea estates which they had privatized in the early 1970s became privatized again. Heavy losses to the industry had been incurred due to nationalized management, and the government made to decision to return its plantations to private management with the sale of its 23 state-owned plantations.

By 1996, Sri Lanka's tea production had exceeded 250,000 metric tons, growing to over 300,000 metric tons by the year 2000. In 2001 the first on-line sales of tea commenced, sold by Forbes & Walker Ltd., at the Colombo Tea Auctions. A Tea Museum was established in Kandy and in 2002 the Tea Association of Sri Lanka was formed.


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