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The Story

The history of tea in Sri Lanka ironically commences during the time when coffee was king. As a colonial economy built almost entirely upon the enterprise of coffee, it was a difficult time for the island when the coffee plantations started to drop one by one due to a fungal disease which was known as “devastating Emily”. At the end of this era, out of around 1700 coffee planters, only about 400 remained who desperately tried their hand at cocoa and cinchona as alternative crops which also failed.

Amongst the chaos and turmoil, the tea cultivation prevailed. It was in 1824 that a tea plant was first brought from China to Sri Lanka and planted at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens. However, it was in the year 1867 that James Taylor marked the birth of the commercial tea industry in Sri Lanka by starting a tea plantation in the Loolcondera estate in Kandy. Thus the history of tea in Sri Lanka unfolds itself within just 19 acres and through many trials and errors. Estates around Loolcondera such as Hope, Mooloya, Rockwood, Le Vallon and Stellenberg are among the first in the island to follow its example while others realizing the potential of this new crop, soon followed their footsteps.  It was no easy task though, converting acres and acres of what used to be coffee plantations into tea. This heroic task was commended by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself who was exceedingly impressed by the sheer grit and perseverance of the colonial planters.

In 1872, James Taylor initiated a fully equipped tea factory in the Loolcondera estate while in 1873, the first shipment of Ceylon tea arrived in London. By the year 1965, Ceylon has established itself as the world’s largest tea exporter and it was in the year 1976 that the Sri Lanka Tea Board had been established. Things have just accelerated their way up from that point onwards.