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History of Tea in Sri Lanka

Tea is a gift that India & Sri Lanka received from the British. Sri Lanka was ruled by multiple European rulers, starting with the Portugese, then the Dutch and finally Britishers. The British arrived at Sri Lanka in 1815.

With the beginning of the British Era, the story of tea started in the land of Sri Lanka. In 1824 a sapling of tea was brought from China to Ceylon (Now known as Sri Lanka) and was planted in Royal Botanical Gardens.

This was followed by a series of experiments to cultivate the plant. Plants from Assam & Calcutta region of British owned East India Company were also planted to match the perfect crop.

A Scottish Gentlemen named Mr. James Taylor initiated commercial cultivation of tea in Sri Lanka in 1866. Over the years the cultivation improved and the production enhanced. The quality of Ceylon tea was appreciated by many across the world.

Tea trade started developing as an organised sector. Tea started selling through the auction process. First Colombo auction was held in 1883. In 1894, Ceylon Tea Traders Association was established which even today auctions almost the entire tea produced in Sri Lanka.

By 1927 , Sri Lanka produced more than 1,00,000 MT of Tea annually. As the domestic consumption is limited, the major portion of this is exported across the world.

In 1925, Tea Research Institute was established in order to study in details the crop pattern, favourable weather conditions etc. This study to maximize the yield of the crop turned out to be very effective and by 1960 the total tea production and export were in excess of 2,00,000 MT.

By 1965, Sri Lanka became the largest exporter of tea for the first time. It introduced instant teas to the world. Tea estates owned by British companies were nationalized by Sri lankan Government. In order to look after the government acquired tea estates, Sri Lankan Tea Board was established in 1976. With innovation in productions, and focus on exports, the business of export of tea bags started in 1976.

As the potential of the market was identified, Sri Lankan Tea Board initiated import of various teas for blending and reexporting with a value addition. In 1982, Sri Llanka started production and export of Green Tea. In 1983 CTC production started in Sri Lanka.

In 1992-93 some of the tea estates, which were owned and operated by the Govt of Sri Lanka were privatized. By 2013 the annual production of Tea is Sri Lanka exceeded 340000 MT.

Today Sri Lanka is ranked as the 4th largest tea producer in the world and is one of the largest exporter of tea, with exports worth USD 946 million in 2018 (Source: ITC Trade data 2018)