There is a country lush with lakes and forests that has been synonymous with exceptional tea for over 120 years. Whether you call it Sri Lanka or its colonial name Ceylon, this teardrop-shaped island, just off the southwestern tip of India, has developed a loyal audience while rising to the rank of the world’s number two tea exporter.
The sub-tropical nation of Ceylon was once known for producing coffee, rubber and quinine until a fungus swept through the coffee plantations in 1869 and wiped out an entire industry. Partly in desperation, the dead coffee trees were ripped out and experimental tea gardens were introduced in an effort to save the struggling agricultural economy.
None of the tea tossed overboard in Boston came from Ceylon. The country’s tea production didn’t take hold until James Taylor of Scotland was chosen to oversee the first sowing of tea seeds in 1866. With some basic knowledge that he had acquired in India, Taylor started manufacturing black tea on the veranda of his bungalow. He rolled the leaf by hand and dried the oxidized leaves in clay stoves heated over charcoal fires. The first Ceylon teas were shipped to the London auctions in 1873 and a burgeoning industry was born to quench the ever-expanding British Empire’s thirst for tea.