SRI LANKAN TEA INDUSTRY

James Taylor a Scottish Tea Planter is recognized as the pioneer of the Tea Industry of Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka. He began the first commercial tea plantations in 1867 on 9 acres of land at Loolecondra Estate with tea seed from Assam. In 1872, he sold a package of 23 pounds of tea in London for the princely sum of Rs.58. The first recorded tea export was, however in 1987, consigned to London on board the Steam Ship, Duke of Argyle.

This formed the beginning of the tea industry of Ceylon, on the footsteps replacing coffee, which was then being wiped out by ‘leaf rust’. The Tea Industry has since grown to be one of the largest exporters in the world with exports last year valued at Rs. 65 billion. Sri Lanka produced 310 million kilos of tea in the year 2002 and exported 292 million kilos. Details of production and export figures are given later on this page.

PRODUCTION

Sri Lanka is predominantly an orthodox tea producer. Tea is grown in the central and lower central part of the country and spreads towards the east. There is also new growth in the southern part of the nation.

Elevational classification is on the basis of factory location as shown below:

Factories situated

Upto 600 meters from sea level Low grown
Between 600 & 1200 meters from sea level Mid grown
Over 1200 meters from sea level High grown


High grown teas come from estates predominantly in the central hills which are again divided into sub districts such as Nuwara Eliya, Kandy, Bogo/Maskeliya, Agrapatna, Uda Pussellawa and Uva. Each of these areas produce teas with distinctly different characters. Hence, Sri Lanka is blessed with the ability to titillate the palates of many countries due to its variety of liquors. For instance, Nuwara Eliyas with its very delicate strength and distinct aroma are much favoured by the Japanese and the North Americans.

The strong brisk teas from Bogo/Maskeliyas are fancied by the UK, South Africa, Russia and for tea bags by Japan, USA and even Canada. Uvas produce especially during the period between July and October possess vintage pungent character and they are much sought after by the Germans and the Japanese.

Our low growns are primarily consumed in the Middle East and to some extent Russia and CIS. These tea drinkers prefer the dark, strong cup with a slightly bakey taste.

CTC production is approximately 6% of the total tea produced.

Today the ownership of the country’s tea lands and processing plants (better known as factories) are in private hands. There was a period from 1975 to 1992 when the industry was mostly under the ownership of the government. However, following an aggressive privatization programme launched in 1992 resulted in the change over to private ownership.

Approximately 55% of Sri Lanka’s production is low growns whilst of the balance, 25 - 28% is accounted for by the high growns, leaving the smallest harvest from the mid growns. In short, 60% of the production is from 40% of the area under tea, which is the smallholder segment. Teas grown in these areas are high yielding compared to the older bushes in the larger extents of the high and mid grown districts.

Exports are dominated by the Middle East accounting for approximately 55% of the total. Low growns dominate the exports to this part of the globe. Sri Lanka now has a 22% export market share in the global exports of producing nations and commands the top position. Russia/CIS heads the list of importing countries with a 24% share and has been holding this position for the last 5 years and more.