Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Tea Around the World – Sri Lanka

By Jess Hodges

The tea industry in Sri Lanka was begun in 1867, back when the country was known as Ceylon, by a British man called James Taylor. Since then it has grown to be a industry accounting for 15% of the countries GDP, employing over 1 million people and only recently surpassed by Kenya as the worlds biggest exporter of tea.

Tea was planted as an alternative crop to coffee, which had been the countries primary cash crop before it was devastated by a fungal disease in 1869. Tea production really took off in the 1880s and continued to go from strength to strength until in 1965 Sri Lanka was exporting more tea than any other country.

As with many large scale commercial products, the story of tea is not always a nice one and the conditions for plantation workers in Sri Lanka can be extremely poor, especially for the women who make up the majority of the workforce.

Ceylon tea is famous all over the world, particularly the black tea which has a bright, citrus flavour and golden colour. The quality of the tea varies with the height of the plantation with the best leaves being grown between 3500 and 7500 feet above sea level.

The rise of the tea bag has been bad news for the export market of Sri Lanka with most of the high quality tea being produced in such a way that it is unsuitable for bagging. The industry has also been hit by drought, seriously reducing production rates.

The story of tea in Sri Lanka has been a tempestuous one and it looks set to continue in that vein.