Online Information Library
 Would you like to try our new website?
To use our new site Click Here

Home > Information Index > Ceylon History

History of Tea in Ceylon (Sri Lanka)

The plantation industry in Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka, began in 1825 with the widespread planting of coffee. Between 1839 and 1840, tea seed and plants were sent to the Royal Botanic Gardens in the Kandy district, but these early arrivals were largely ignored for the more lucrative coffee craze that had seized the region. However, this booming industry came to a dramatic halt in 1869 when a leaf disease known as the "coffee rust" spread rapidly throughout the countryside -- reaching every coffee district within the span of five years. While the plantation owners desperately cleared and replanted coffee at a remarkable rate, the disease continued to spread unhindered.

During the next twenty years, in a frantic effort to avoid financial ruin, planters in Ceylon converted their decimated acreage to tea; it was a remarkable effort that involved the wide-scale uprooting and burning of millions of infected coffee bushes. Perhaps the rapid cultivation of tea in Sri Lanka was aided most by the knowledge and experience of their fellow Indian tea planters.

Within the span of a few years, tea processing factories -- most resembling nothing more than shacks constructed from mud and wattle walls and floors -- sprang up across the island of Ceylon. Fresh-picked tea leaves were withered in separate sheds and hand-rolled on long, grooved tables before undergoing fermentation. Inside the factory building, lines of charcoal-burning ovens were situated across the mud floor, and it was over these ovens that the tea leaves were fired or dried.

Although many influential and successful planters were responsible for transforming Ceylon from ruined a coffee-producing region to one famous worldwide for its tea, nearly all of their names have been forgotten except for one -- Thomas Lipton. Already a millionaire grocer by the time he looked into tea prospects in Ceylon in 1888, Lipton decided that the best way to make money in the lucrative European tea market was to eliminate the costly middlemen and develop a direct source for tea. Because the economic effects of the coffee blight were still drastically affecting Ceylon, Lipton naturally chose this island as the inexpensive source for his tea.

Lipton's genius was not in the area of growing tea but rather in the marketing and distribution of the final product, and his tireless capacity to invent and popularize clever slogans and effective advertising campaigns are legendary. It is a testament to Lipton's remarkable force of character and business acumen that his name alone is often included in any popular discussion of Ceylon tea.

Under the watchful eye of Lipton and other business tycoons, there were 380,000 acres of tea by 1900, and steady increases resulted in 600,000 acres by the late 1960's. Today, most of the same land that was converted from coffee continues a thriving international tea industry.

 Related Information:

Still Have a Question? Contact us!
   Either send us an Email at or
   Call us at (800)234-8327!

"Upton Tea Imports was founded in 1989 with the objective of providing the North American tea drinker with the finest teas available. We purchase teas from reputable brokers and estates worldwide, dealing only with sources who are capable of providing top quality teas. We sell directly to the consumer, thus ensuring the freshest product and fairest pricing."