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Tea Saves the Day

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History

When Coffee was King

Strange as it may seem, the story of Ceylon Tea begins with coffee. The tale begins in the early 1820s, barely five years after the surrender of Kandy, the last surviving indigenously-ruled state in Ceylon, to the British crown. By then, the rest of the island had already been a British colony for more than a generation. Its possession was considered vital to imperial interests in India and the Far East, but the cost of maintaining the military presence and infrastructure necessary to secure it was prohibitive. Attempts to raise revenue by taxation could not by themselves fill the gap; how to make the colony pay for itself and its garrison was a problem that had troubled successive governors since the first, Frederic North, took office in 1798.

Experiments with coffee may already have begun by 1824, when the fifth of Ceylon’s colonial governors, Edward Barnes, arrived in the island, but it was he who first saw in coffee a solution to the colony’s perennial balance-of-payments problem. The plant had already been found growing naturally among the approaches to the central hill country; sensing an opportunity, Barnes threw the weight of official support behind large-scale cultivation. Land in the central hills was sold for a few pence an acre, official funds were dedicated to research and experiments in coffee-growing, planters and merchants were provided with incentives and support. Most important of all, Barnes provided the infrastructure – a network of roads, including the all-important trunk route from Kandy to Colombo – that enabled coffee-planters to get their produce to town, and thence to market in England.History-11

Barnes’ term of office ended in 1831. By then the coffee ‘enterprise’ (today we would call it an industry) occupied much of the country round Kandy and was spreading southward and upward into the formerly virgin forests of the central hills. Then, in 1838, the abolition of slavery in Jamaica caused the collapse of that country’s coffee industry. The resulting boom in Ceylon coffee opened up much that remained of the hitherto trackless hill country.

Despite setbacks in the late 1840s, the enterprise continued to grow. In the mid-1870s Ceylon became the world’s largest producer of coffee. Profits and revenues generated by the enterprise turned the colony into an imperial showpiece, prosperous, civilized and modern. Railways threaded the coffee-clad hillsides, roads plumbed the interior; the city of Colombo was gas-lit and its port had been developed with a breakwater and new quays. An effective government and civil administration kept things functioning smoothly, although the people of Ceylon had little say in either institution.

This idyll was to be short-lived. In 1869, the first signs of a new plant disease, coffee-rust, appeared on a plantation in Madulsima. The blight took slightly more than a decade to wipe out the entire coffee enterprise in Ceylon.

Ceylon Green Tea

 

Manufacturing

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Plucking

The process of manufacture commences when the leaves are picked or ‘plucked’. Plucking calls for discrimination and dexterity and is carried out mainly by women. Only the uppermost foliage on every stem is picked – the famous ‘two leaves and a bud’ – and the stem itself must be left undamaged. Fiddly work, but a skilled tea-plucker can collect up to 20kg. (44lb.) of leaf daily[/animate]

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Cultivation

 

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Tea-Growing Regions

The tea-growing regions of Sri Lanka are clustered mostly among the mountains of the island’s central massif and its southern foothils. Once thickly forested and largely inaccessible to humans, the central mountains were known to the ancient Sinhalese as Mayarata, the Country of Illusions. It was said to be haunted by demons and spirits. This fearsome reputation, together with more tangible threats posed by wild beasts, venomous snakes, landslides, rockfalls and the ever-present danger of simply losing one’s way in the forest, kept most people away from the high hills. Settlement was almost nonexistent except in the valleys and around the city of Kandy. Only foresters, hermits and fugitives had any reason to enter the Mayarata.
Thus it was that after the annexation of the Kandyan kingdom in 1815, the British found themselves in possession of vast tracts of virgin montaine forest. Imperial enterprise soon found a way of putting the acquisition to good use. By 1840, there were already about two hundred coffee-estates dotted about the hills; then came a boom in coffee on the London market, fuelling a land-rush. Down came the high forests, acre after acre, to be replaced by endless, regimented rows of coffee-bushes. At the peak of the coffee enterprise in 1878, no less than 113,000 ha. (278,000 acres) were under cultivation.
 
 
 
 
 
 

History of Ceylon Tea

 

 

Why 'Ceylon' Tea

 

The Lion of Ceylon

Indivisibly associated with the Ceylon Tea brand is the famous Lion of Ceylon logo, found only on packages of pure Ceylon tea packed in Sri Lanka prior to export. The logo is based on the Lion of Ceylon, an ancient heraldic device which decorates the national flag of Sri Lanka. It was first adopted by the Tea Propaganda Board, one of the precursors of the present Tea Board, and is a registered trademark in over a hundred countries around the world.

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