Tea production in Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, is of high importance to the Sri Lankan economy and the world market. Sri Lanka was the world's leading exporter of tea (rather than producer) with 23% of the total world export in recent years but has since been surpassed by Kenya. The tea sector employs, directly or indirectly over 1 million people in Sri Lanka, and in recent years directly employed 215,338 on tea plantations and estates. The central highlands of the country, low temperature climate throughout the year, annual rainfall and the level of humidity are more favorable geographical factors for production in high quality tea. Directly and indirectly, over one million Sri Lankans are employed in the tea industry. Over 221,000 hectares or approximately 4% of the country’s land area is covered in tea plantations.
The industry was introduced to the country in 1867 by James Taylor, the British planter who arrived in 1852. In 1824 a tea plant was brought to Ceylon by the British from China and was planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya for non-commercial purposes.
In 1872 he started a fully equipped tea factory in the same Loolecondera estate and that year the first sale of Loolecondra tea was made in Kandy. In 1873, the first shipment of Ceylon tea, a consignment of some 23 lbs, arrived in London. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle remarked on the establishment of the tea plantations, “the tea fields of Ceylon are as true a monument to courage as is the lion at Waterloo”.
As tea plantations grew up in Sri Lanka and demanded extensive labour, finding an abundant workforce was a problem to planters. Sinhalese people were reluctant work in the plantations as they were used to paddy farming. Therefore Indian Tamils began to be brought to Sri Lanka from the beginning of the coffee plantations. Immigration of Indian Tamils steadily increased and by 1855 there were 55,000 new immigrants. By the end of the coffee era there were some 100,000 in Sri Lanka.
The major tea growing areas are Kandy and Nuwara Eliya in Central Province, Badulla, Bandarawela and Haputale in Uva Province, Galle, Matara and Mulkirigala in Southern Province, Sri Lanka, and Ratnapura and Kegalle in Sabaragamuwa Province.
There are mainly six principal regions planting tea. Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula, Kandy Uda Pussellawa, Uva Province and South. Nuwara Eliya is an oval shaped plateau of 6,240 feet of elevation. Nuwara Eliya tea produces a unique flavour.
The crop is best grown at high altitudes of over 2100 m, and the 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 in coordination with the contours of the land, usually on slopes.
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, which have the flavour and aroma, are skilfully plucked, usually by women. Sri Lanka is one of the few countries where each tea leaf is picked by hand rather than be mechanisation given that if machinery operated, often a considerable number of coarse leaves and twigs could be mixed, adding bulk not flavor to the tea. The women after experience acquire the ability to pluck rapidly and set a daily target of around 15 to 20 kg of tea leaves to be weighed and then transported to the nearby tea factory
Types of tea
Ceylon black tea
Ceylon black tea is one of the country's specialties. It has a crisp aroma reminiscent of citrus, and is used both unmixed and in blends. It is grown on numerous estates which vary in altitude and taste.
Ceylon green tea
Ceylon green tea is mainly made from Assamese tea stock. It is grown in Idalgashinna in Uva Province. Ceylon green teas generally have the fuller body and the more pungent, rather malty, nutty flavour characteristic of the teas originating from Assamese seed stock.
Overall, the green teas from Sri Lanka have their own characteristics at this time - they tend to be darker in both the dry and infused leaf, and their flavour is richer; this could change in the future as market demand preferences change the Ceylon green tea producers start using more of the original Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Brazilian seed base, which produces the very light and sparkling bright yellow colour and more delicate, sweet flavour with which most of the world market associates green teas.
At this time, Sri Lanka remains a very minor producer of green teas and its green teas, like those of India and Kenya, remain an acquired taste.
Ceylon white tea
Ceylon white tea, also known as "silver tips" is highly prized, and prices per kilogram are significantly higher than other teas. The tea was first grown at Nuwara Eliya near Adam's Peak between 2200 -2500 metres.
The tea is grown, harvested and rolled by hand with the leaves dried and withered in the sun. It has a delicate, very light liquoring with notes of pine & honey and a golden coppery infusion. 'Virgin White Tea' is also grown near Galle in the south of Sri Lanka.
The history of this tea is that the tea was specially made for the Chinese Emperor and was only cut by virgins with golden shears onto golden plates and was never touched by hand. The anti oxidants found in the tea are over 10% which ranks it one of the highest in the World.
Rubber cultivation in Sri Lanka was started by the English. It is our second biggest revenue earner. Rubber is not a native of Sri Lanka. It is a native of South America. But it grows very well in the middle country of Sri Lanka. It too, needs plenty of water and sunshine.
Many companies do rubber cultivation here because it does not pay very much to have it on small scale. Most of the companies grow rubber on estates of over hundred acres.
As in tea estates, there are gangs of laborers who tap rubber which needs skill, care and experience. The laborers here are mostly Sinhalese, but they do not start work well after the sun has risen and the climate in the mid country is not very cold. But the payment here is too poor. Once the rubber latex, (milk), is collected in to the buckets of about three gallons each, it is taken to the factory and heated and out comes the elastic substance we call rubber which is used for tires, tubes and for other rubber products. Most of the rubber produced is exported. There is chemically produced rubber, known as artificial rubber, in other countries, but natural rubber is far superior to the artificially manufactured rubber.
The Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera) is a member of the family Arecaceae (palm family). It is the only species in the genus Cocos, and is a large palm, growing to 30 m tall, with pinnate leaves 4–6 m long, pinnae 60–90 cm long; old leaves break away cleanly leaving the trunk smooth. The term coconut refers to the seed of the coconut palm. The spelling cocoanut is an old-fashioned form of the word.
The origins of this plant are the subject of controversy, with most authorities claiming it is native to South Asia (particularly the Ganges Delta), while others claim its origin is in northwestern South America.
Nearly all parts of the coconut palm are useful, and the palms have a comparatively high yield, up to 75 fruits per year. There fore has significant economic value. The name for the coconut palm in Sanskrit is kalpa vriksha, which translates as "the tree which provides all the necessities of life". In Sri Lanka the coconut is known as Kapruka" the tree of a given many things".
The coconut palm thrives on sandy soils and is highly tolerant of salinity. It prefers areas with abundant sunlight and regular rainfall (150 cm to 250 cm annually), which makes colonizing shorelines of the tropics relatively straight forward. Coconuts also need high humidity (70–80%+) for optimum growth, which is why they are rarely seen in areas with low humidity, like the Mediterranean, even where temperatures are high enough (regularly above 24°C).
Coconut palms require warm conditions for successful growth, and are intolerant of cold weather. Optimum growth is with a mean annual temperature of 27°C and growth is reduced below 21°C.
The conditions required for coconut trees to grow without any care are:
- mean daily temperature above 12-13C every day of the year
- 50 year low temperature above freezing
- mean yearly rainfall above 1000 mm
- no or very little overhead canopy since even small trees require a lot of sun
Coconut trees are very hard to establish in dry climates and cannot grow there without frequent irrigation; in drought conditions, the new leaves do not open well, and older leaves may become desiccated; fruit also tends to be shed.