Today Sri Lanka is the world’s fourth largest producer of tea, but in the 1860s Sri Lanka (or Ceylon as it was known until it changed its name in 1972) was the world’s biggest producer of coffee. It was only after a fungus destroyed the country’s entire coffee crop that former coffee plantations switched their focus to tea.
Teas from Sri Lanka quickly became popular and sought after for their strong, robust and distinctive teas. Lowland teas were prized for their addition to blends such as English Breakfast whilst Highland teas were sought after for their quality as pure leaf teas such as Ceylon Orange Pekoe. Today, teas from Sri Lanka are still known as Ceylon teas.
Despite being the world’s largest exporter of teas by 1965, Sri Lanka’s tea industry was severely damaged in 1972 when the state nationalised tea estates and new land reforms meant that no independent grower could own more than 50 acres. Following this, the adoption of CTC (cut-tear-curl) production methods and the proliferation of the teabag severely dented the reputation of fine Ceylon tea.
Despite the abandonment of many tea estates during the civil war (1983- 2009), the last decade has seen a revival of small holder estates and the regeneration of the Sri Lankan tea industry. Whilst much of the tea industry remains commodity driven, with small holders selling their tea to larger processing factories, estates like Amba are leading the way in picking and processing their own specialty teas.