Tea came to be a principal crop in Sri Lanka in the early 1870s. Prior to the 1860s, Sri Lanka’s main crop was coffee and no planter showed much interest in tea. A young Scottish man by the name of James Taylor who arrived in Ceylon in 1852 to work for one of the large coffee growers was mainly responsible for the transformation of Ceylon’s plantation map from coffee to tea. Taylor was a scientific planter who was entirely devoted to his work. He was involved with the Royal Botanical Gardens of Peradeniya of Sri Lanka and it was there that he got his first tea seeds for experimental planting. The 19 acres of Loolecondera Estate where Taylor did the first commercial planting of tea became the model for the future development of the tea industry in Sri Lanka. Taylor began to experiment with different methods of processing tea leaves. His bungalow became the factory. Leaf was rolled on tables and firing was done in clay stoves over charcoal fires.
In 1869 a leaf disease destroyed the island’s coffee Plantation and Estate owners looked for alternative crops. Following Taylor’s lead, they opted for tea.
The transformation from coffee to tea was fairly easy since the island had experienced planters and a well-working agricultural system. Ceylon’s tea industry witnessed a rapid expansion in the 1870s and 1880s, which brought a good deal of interest from large British companies, which took over many estates. From 400 hectares in 1875, the island’s tea area grew to 120,000 hectares by 1900. Today it covers about 220,000 hectares in the highland and southern lowland areas of the country.
Taylor made his home in Loolecondera and died 40 years later. James Taylor’s legacy is best summed up in the words of John Field, a former High Commissioner of Great Britain in Sri Lanka. He wrote; “ It can be said of very few individuals that their labor has helped to shape the landscape of a country. 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”
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