‘Tea Country’, a name better known than Sri Lanka
In mid seventies when one introduced himself, in Saudi Arabia, as a Sri Lankan some were not aware where Sri Lanka was but when they were told, it is the country that produced tea –‘Balad al Shai’- practically everyone knew and promptly came the response as ‘Sailan’ with an expression of real joy on their faces.
This reflected how much they loved our tea. Tea is one of the three major income earners of the country, once called ‘Serandib’ by the ancient Arab travelers to the Indian ocean-island, the two other income earners being tourism and foreign employment. Sri Lanka is the world’s fourth largest producer of tea and it accounts for 19 percent of the GDP. However, Sri Lanka is the world’s leading exporter of tea with 23 percent of the total world export but it has since been surpassed.
The tea industry was first introduced to the country in 1867 by a British planter by the name James Taylor, who arrived in the island in 1852. In 1824 a tea plant was brought to Ceylon, as it was called then, by the British from China and was planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, in the central province.
Tea production in Ceylon increased dramatically in the 1880s and by 1888 the area under cultivation exceeded that of coffee, growing nearly 4000,000 acres or 1619 sq. km. As tea production progressed, new factories were constructed, introducing innovative methods of mechanization brought from England. As far back as 1934 a law prohibiting export of poor quality tea was passed to guarantee the island’s reputation for its quality tea. A law still strictly followed by the authorities to protect the name of the ‘Tea Country’.
In 1960 the total tea production for export rose to 200,000 metric tons, however, the first ever export amounted to just 23 lbs of tea (10 kgs), which arrived in London, in the year 1873.In 1980 Sri Lanka became the official supplier of tea at the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympic Games, in 1982 at the 12th Commonwealth Games in Brisbane and again in 1987 at Expo 88 in Australia.
Now over 188,175 hectares (727 sq miles) or approximately 4 percent of the country’s land area is covered in tea plantations. There are mainly six principal regions planting tea; Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula, Kandy Uda Pussellawa, Uva Province and Southern Province. Nuwara Eliya is an oval shaped plateau at an elevation of 6240 ft (1902 m) Nuwara Eliya tea produces a unique flavor and very much in demand. Ceylon tea is divided into three groups; Upcountry, Midcountry and Lowcountry tea based on the geography of the land on which it is grown.
In 2008 export earnings from tea struck a record high of $ 1.23 billion. The main destination for its export were former Soviet bloc countries of the CIS, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the UK, Egypt, Libya and Japan.
Tea produced in Sri Lanka carries the ‘Lion Logo’ on its packages, which indicates that the tea was produced in Sri Lanka. The use of the ‘Lion Logo’ is closely monitored by the Sri Lanka Tea Board, which is the governing body of the tea industry in Sri Lanka. Each and every consignment is thoroughly inspected by Sri Lankan Tea Board officers before being shipped. Therefore the origin of the tea and its quality is hundred percent assured before it leaves the shore of Sri Lanka.
Lately the Tea Board has opened a Tea Museum in Hantana, Kandy, which provides valuable insight into how tea was manufactured in the early days. This museum draws large number of tourists and local visitors to the hill capital, Kandy.
- Asian Tribune –