The Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri -Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon, occupies entire tropical island situated 25 miles (40 km) off the southeastern tip of India. Although Sri Lanka is now one of the worlds major tea exporters, and the appellation "Ceylon Tea" is still in use, its tea industry is relatively young. Before 1860, not a single tea tree grew on the island. It was entirely covered with coffee plantations, which represented the country's primary economic resource.
The establishment of the first tea gardens on the island is attributed to a young Scot, James Taylor, who worked for a large coffee grower. Taylor managed to obtain a few tea-tree seeds from the Royal Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya, with which to try to create a first plantation. Throughout the 1860s he experimented with different growing and leaf-processing methods on a few acres of the Loolecondera Estate, which were referred to as Field No. 7. This garden, in Kandy, is considered the pioneer of tea growing in Sri Lanka. However, Taylors work would probably have gone unnoticed if a sudden epidemic had not devastated the coffee trees.
Starting in 1869, a parasitic fungus (Hemileia vastatrix) that attacked the leaves of coffee plants swept the entire island and completely wiped out the coffee plantations in a couple of decades. Looking for a substitute crop, growers copied Taylor and turned to tea trees. With an already established agricultural system and experienced growers, the transition from coffee to tea growing happened quickly. In fact, tea-producing areas grew from 1000 acres (400 ha) in j 875 to 300,000 acres (120,000 ha) in 1900,
Consisting of just two small crates, the first exportation of Sri Lankan tea took place in 1872. After that, high demand from the British stimulated the industry's expansion. In 1890, the explosion of the tea-growing industry was also encouraged by Thomas Lipton, who, sensing a bargain, arrived on the island to snap up plantations for a song. He invested in industrial machinery for cheaper high-volume production and concentrated on developing packaging that would be attractive to customers.
During the 1990s, after the break up of the USSR, Sri Lanka benefitted greatly from the business coming in from the new republics.
Their tea industry has become well organized and highly regulated by the government. All teas are sold through the auctions in Colombo.
Recent years have seen Sri Lanka become one of the worlds top exporters, but tea production for the industrial market is increasing in many other countries. With Sri Lanka’s relatively high costs of production the quality control is becoming their essential distinction.
THE SRI LANKAN TEA INDUSTRY
With a favorable climate that allows growers to produce several harvests per year, Sri Lanka is the fourth-largest tea grower in the world. Its annual output of 2 million pounds (223 million kg) of tea (according to 2008 data from the Tea Board of Sri Lanka) represents 6 percent of global production. Dependent on the export market and tailoring its product to the high standards of importing countries. Sri Lanka exports almost all of its production.
Stretching from the mountains down to the southern plains of the country, plantations cover more than 544,000 acres (220,000 ha) of the island. Most of the gardens are in the south of the island, on the eastern and western slopes of the high plateaus. They fall into three groups, according to their altitude:
• The low-grown gardens, from sea level to 2,000 feet (600 m).
• The medium-grown gardens, from 2,000 to 4,000 feet (600 to 1,200 m).
• The high-grown gardens, situated between 4,000 and 6,500 feet (1,200 to 2,000 m).
The highest peaks are found in the region of Muwara Eliya, a mountainous valley in the center of the island, and culminate in a plateau at 6,500 feet (2,000 m). The climate is hot and humid, yielding several harvests throughout the year. The best harvests, however; are gathered from January to the end of March.
Recognized as one of the foremost plantations in Sri Lanka, the growing area of Dimbula was established in the 1870s, during the epidemic that would completely destroy the coffee trees. The gardens are located at altitudes that vary from 3,300 to 5,600 feet (1,000 to 1,700 m). The harvests destined for the production of high-quality teas also take place from January to March.
High on the eastern slopes of the central mountains, the plantations of the province of Uva are also situated at an altitude of 3,300 to 5,600 feet (1,000 to 1,700 m). Because this area is affected by a different weather system, the best harvests are gathered from August to October.