Posted on July 2nd, 2017

By. Dr. Tilak S. Fernando

Year 2017 becomes the quasquicentennial anniversary of the Ceylon Tea industry. The Colombo Tea Traders’ Association, the apex body of the industry, in collaboration with the Sri Lanka Tea Board, the state regulatory agency for the industry, will conduct a comprehensive programme to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Ceylon Tea with several celebratory events throughout the year. The celebrations commenced in January from the head office at the Tea Board, with the unveiling of a sculptured bust of James Taylor, the Scotsman who arrived in Ceylon in 1847 mainly to grow coffee.

Taylor experimented with tea plantation in 19 acres out of coffee estates with the first set of tea seeds brought from India. His experiments with diversified methods of processing tea began by rolling tea leaves on tables by hand in the verandah of his bungalow and blazed in clay stoves over charcoal fires with wire trays to hold the leaf.

James Taylor

The legendary coffee blight in 1869 wiped out the entire coffee industry in Ceylon leaving the option of tea growing as the only alternative left. Taylor’s moral fibre and resolve made him organize a much larger tea factory in 1872 on the Loolecondera Estate. In March that year he wrote, “I have a machine of my own invention being made in Kandy for rolling tea, which I think will be successful”. Finally the first shipments of Ceylon tea reached the London auctions in 1875. Ever since, James Taylor was identified as “the Father of the Tea Industry’ in Ceylon. Tea production in Sri Lanka has always played a vital role to boost the national economy of the country and the world market. In 1995 Sri Lanka became the world’s leading exporter of tea. The first five months in 2017 (up to May) Ceylon Tea has earned Rs 89.2 million.


Expeditious expansion of the Ceylon tea industry made large British companies to take over many of the smaller estates. During this era, a grocer named Thomas Lipton purchased four estates, which later became synonymous with tea. In 1992 John Field, the High Commissioner for Great Britain in Sri Lanka summed up James Taylor’s legacy thus:

“It can be said of very few individuals whose labours have helped to shape the landscape of a country. But the beauty of the hill country, as it now appears, owes much to the inspiration of James Taylor, the man who introduced tea cultivation to Sri Lanka.”

In 1839 the British owners of tea estates established an official division calling it the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, followed by the formation of the Planters’ Association in 1854. The Ceylon Tea Traders’ Association founded in 1894 handled all produced tea in progression with the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. In 1896 the Colombo Brokers’ Association was formed. In 1915 the late Thomas Amarasuriya became the first Ceylonese to be appointed as the chairman of the Planters’ Association.

Tea Research Institute

The Tea Research Institute, established in 1925, aimed at maximizing yields and methods of production. The Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board was formed in 1932 and a new regulation prohibited the export of poor quality tea out of Ceylon in 1934. In 1941 Messrs Pieris and Abeywardena established the first Ceylonese tea broking house whilst the Ceylon Estate Employers’ Federation came into effect in 1944.

The port of Galle, up to the late 19th century, was the main port of the island and was used for virtually all its exports. However, with the construction of the Colombo harbour, coinciding with the time that tea became the major export commodity of the country, hardly any tea was exported from Galle. During a period of volatile trade union activities in the 1960s and 1970s, when strikes in the port of Colombo, in particular, became intolerable, resulting in queues of ships left stranded along the coastline for days on end. The tea trade got together and formed a company named, the Trincomalee Tea Administration (TTA), and with the support of the government, exported significant volumes of tea through that port, transported directly from the plantations. The trade unions soon realized the threat this posed to their employment and with the J. R. Jayewardene government coming into power, the strike subsided and the TTA operation was gradually curtailed and finally terminated.

Worldwide celebrations

As a part of the 150th anniversary celebrations, unique Global Ceylon Tea Parties will be conducted in July this year, on a single day, commencing at the identical time in each time zone, hosted at Sri Lankan embassies, High Commissions and representative offices worldwide. In each country, tea enthusiasts and media will be invited to this event, during which a range of Ceylon tea will be served, accompanied by a traditional Sri Lankan High Tea, during which special cultural performances will be featured. The parties will follow a staggered system at each location in a time zone, from the East to West, as each zone reaches the specified hour in the afternoon.

Consequently, there will be a cumulative 24-hour global celebration of Ceylon Tea. In Sri Lanka multiple parties will be held island wide, on the same day and time. A series of educational fairs which started from March 2017 will continue till July in all seven tea producing regions to serve as an outstretch to the local community in an endeavour to infuse a better understanding of the relevance and importance of the tea industry to the country and its career opportunities with a view to creating an awareness of the significance of this historic event.


The publication of a commemorative book, an authentic historical record of the 150 years of Ceylon Tea with the title CEYLON TEA:

The Trade That Made A Nation, produced by a creative and production team consisting of experts in their respective fields, will be launched this month. The organizers expect the public to be overwhelmed by the quality and the beauty of the collection of images, new and archival, in both colour and black and white, compiled by the picture researcher and illustrator Dominic Sansoni a master of his craft. Along with the launching of the book a set of stamps and a first day cover will be released to mark the occasion with a especially designed folder for the stamps, illustrated by Sansoni with the text compiled by David Jansze. In addition, the release of a specifically minted Rs.10 coin will adorn the occasion.

A marketing website for the book providing preview material and reviews to motivate potential buyers and to contain a pre-order form and payment gateway to enable direct sales will be set up. Judiciously and unstintingly produced, this book is said to be of outstanding quality in content and presentation and is going to be a worthy addition to any library and would be of great value for posterity.

A grand charity tea auction organized among the eight-tea broking companies will generate money through an auction of six items uniquely associated with the legendary Colombo tea auctions as limited editions in especially crafted Sterling Silver. The entire proceeds of the auction will be utilized judiciously on selected charity projects in the high and low elevation tea growing areas for the benefit of the children of plantation workers exclusively.

Uniqueness of Ceylon tea

To promote the uniqueness of Ceylon tea and tea culture among tourists and Sri Lankans in a festive atmosphere a special programme will focus on street events, featuring tea stalls, food stalls and entertainment, including performances depicting tea related activities which the Organising committee intends to continue as an annual event in the future.

This will be followed by another international tea convention scheduled to be held from 8 to 11 August 2017, when approximately 300 overseas delegates are expected to participate, apart from a significant local participation. During the convention eloquent presentations will be delivered by eminent personalities in the global tea trade and the international business arena, both from overseas and Sri Lanka, with expertise and experience in a wide spectrum of relevant disciplines, setting the tone for stimulating discussions and sharing of diverse views. It will be immediately followed by a Ceylon Tea Expo Exhibition which will be held from 11 to 13 August to enable exporters, manufactures, producers and service providers in the tea industry, both local and international, to showcase their products and services.

An award ceremony will recognize stakeholders in the tea industry, encompassing all sectors in every region, ranging from the best tea plucker, tea taster, and tea blender to the best manufacturer and the most creative innovator. A programme will also be initiated to upgrade the Ceylon Tea Museum, which is of great relevance to the history of the industry.

Enthusiasts in the tea industry are strongly recommended to access the website: www.ceylonteaevents.com

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