The story of Ceylon tea begins over two hundred years ago, when the country that is now known as Sri Lanka, was still a British colony. Coffee was the dominant crop on the island, and intrepid British men journeyed across oceans to begin a new life on coffee plantations.

James Taylor, a Scotsman, played a significant role in the development of Ceylon Tea. A perfectionist by nature, Taylor experimented with tea cultivation and leaf manipulation in order to obtain the best possible flavour from the tea leaves. Taylor’s methods were emulated by other planters and soon, Ceylon Tea was being favourably received by buyers in London, proving that tea could be a profitable plantation crop.

By the 1880s almost all the coffee plantations in Ceylon had been converted to tea. British planters looked to their counterparts at the East India Company and the Assam Company in India for guidance on crop cultivation. Coffee stores were rapidly converted to tea factories to meet the demand for tea. As tea production in Ceylon progressed, new factories were constructed and an element of mechanization was introduced. Machinery for factories was brought in from England.

As Ceylon tea gained in popularity throughout the world, a need arose to mediate and monitor the sale of tea. An auction system was established and on 30 July 1883 the first public sale of tea was conducted. The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce undertook responsibility for the auctions, and by 1894 the Ceylon Tea Traders Association was formed. Today almost all tea produced in Sri Lanka is conducted by these two organizations.

Ceylon tea grows from almost sea level to 7000 ft. The climate of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) varies very much according to locality, and, has a marked effect on the flavor and quality of tea.



Tea bushes on slopes are a familiar part of the Sri Lankan landscape. Over 221,000 hectares or approximately 4% of the country’s land area is covered in tea. Growing best at high altitudes of over 2100 m, these plants require an annual rainfall of more than 100-125 cm.
Tea is cultivated in Sri Lanka using the ‘contour planting’ method, where tea bushes are planted in lines, which follow the contours of the land. Young tea plants are frequently cut back 10-15 cm from the ground to encourage lateral growth. The plants are pruned regularly to prevent them from becoming trees, and the resultant bushes are flat topped and about 1m in height. Pruning methods vary within the country, but the procedure is always a skilful operation, performed with a sharp, specially shaped knife as the tea bush should in no way be damaged during the process.
Nurturing the tea bushes and treating the soil in which they grow are an integral part of tea cultivation. Regular application of fertiliser ensures healthy leaf growth.
For commercial manufacture the ‘flush’ or leaf growth on the side branches and stems of the bush are used. Generally two leaves and a bud are plucked - a skilful operation carried out in Sri Lanka by women.