Camellia sinensis completes 150 years in Sri Lanka | Daily News


 

Ceylonese Gardens to London’s Teapot

Camellia sinensis completes 150 years in Sri Lanka

Chinese Emperor Shen Nung in 2737 BC accidentally discovered a popular beverage, next to the water with today, the Americans alone consume 600 million pounds a day. It was James Taylor, a British planter, who, at 17 years started planting tea in the Loolecondera estate in Kandy. In five years he operated a fully-fledged tea factory enabling first tea sale in 1872. It has since developed into a $1.7 billion export business.

46 years ago, and exactly a century after the first consignment of 23 pounds of Ceylon Tea was unloaded in England, the writer happened to be there on a visit. With little international cricket and no LTTE, every young and old Englishmen when introduced as a Ceylonese, expressed ignorance, just one exclaimed, “Ah…, that’s where tea come from” and another wondered, “Ceylon the first woman Prime Minister’s country?” With most of them, we remained ‘Lipton’s Tea Estate’.

Today, as the world’s fourth-largest producer, it accounts for 2% of GDP, and our foreign exchange contribution exceeded by the US$1.9 billion in 2019. Sri Lanka was the leading exporter before Kenya overtook us in mid-fifties. In the recent past, it recorded the highest prices so far with COVID-19 disrupting our competitors. A blessing in disguise?

Legendary slogans

It was Lipton’s genius in the marketing and distribution and his capacity to create and popularize witty slogans that were legendary. Instead of selling it loose, as the tradition at the beginning, Lipton added value and sold his tea in eye-catching well-designed packets with the slogan “Straight from Ceylonese gardens to the teapot.” His venture into tea was an enormous success. He ran a chain of 300 odd shops all over England, yet could not keep up with the rising demand for the reasonably priced trademark product; so Lipton teas became admired in other stores around Britain. Lipton became a trademark well-known Europe after Queen Victoria, a great enthusiast of the Lipton brand, elevated Thomas Lipton to knighthood in 1897.

The industry was still under the control of the British, even though Sri Lanka became the world’s largest tea exporter in mid-1960s, who exported the tea in bulk form with no value addition.It was in the mid-1970s that a few local dynamic marketers began branding and packaging pure Ceylon tea. They left out middlemen and generated higher profits. But soon the industry was hampered with two vicious rounds of land reform by the government that not only delayed results of positive steps but nearly wiped out our tea industry altogether. In the 1980s two companies were successful in launching their products in value-added form, those of which have become most recognized international brands. Today our tea packet industry comprised 46 per cent of total exports, thanks to Thomas Lipton who created the concept—‘Ceylon TEA’.

Tea Council records gave a figure 340 million kilograms as Sri Lanka export volume in 2012, the third-highest by volume behind China and Kenya, measured in value terms achieving the number two position.

Superb opportunity

The first plant of camellia sinesis was brought in 1824, from China by the British for display in the Royal Botanical Gardens Peradeniya.

A few kilometres West of Kandy there is a Tea Museum located in an abandon tea factory in the Hantana hill, unfortunately, only a few locals visit the place but are fairly popular among tourists. Very old machinery used in the production of tea from the times of James Taylor is exhibited there, giving every one of you the chance of viewing. It is a superb opportunity for anyone interested in the history of the tea industry. It is advisable to visit this museum which is spread over a few floors— it offers an enchanting insight into this beverage. Some guides will explain the various stages in the process of manufacture, though the old machines are not in working condition, it will show you very early types of machines used. It takes four kgs of fresh leaves to produce one kg of dried tea. You spend only an hour and also enjoy a free cup of Ceylon’s finest tea, Orange Pekoe.

With the establishment of first broking firm, John Brothers & Co The first public tea auction was held under the guidance of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and took place in 1883. In 1894, Colombo Tea Traders’ Association was inaugurated and in 1925 Tea Research Institute was established facilitating boosting the industry in both production and export of quality tea.

The tea companies must also obey the rules to strict maintain quality standards laid down and upheld by the Tea Board. As attempted by scrupulous businessmen in recent times, Ceylon tea should not be blended or mixed with the teas from another origin, it must be completely pure and local. The new policy formulated and presented to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management by a committee which studied the blending of teas in Sri Lanka for the re-export should receive utmost importance. According to them, there are both risks and opportunities associated with the liberalization of the existing policies. The Paradise, sun and rain Ceylon, presents the perfect climatic conditions for growing of tea.

Wide recognition

When the country changed its name from Ceylon to Sri Lanka in 1972, the tea industry struggled successfully to keep the widely-recognized name for its tea. Our Tea has unique characteristics being grown in several regions spanning three levels of altitudes- high, mid and low; Sri Lanka’s tea is Strong, flavorful, dark, and complex.

Unilever bought over Liptons; we are grateful to the entrepreneur, Sir Thomas Lipton for his untiring efforts and the catchphrase “from Ceylonese gardens to London’s teapot.” The limited supplies, together with enhanced demand from our markets, prices escalated; in fact, it had hit the peak, though the total value of exports has come down.

The writer’s son, unlike his father, when he was working in England did not experience any embarrassments when introduced as a Sri Lankan. He only faced pleasant dimness returning on holiday when all his English colleagues were reminding him, “please do not forget some D…. tea” a particular brand of value-added tea which is enormously popular there.


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