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Ceylon Tea | Sri Lanka A Journey Through Tea

When it comes to Sri Lanka and its Tea, its history weaves all the way back to the 18th century era. This was also the period when Ceylon’s Tea had a very strong bond with none other than the darker, the stronger, the best rival ever, Coffee.

This history that we are about to share with you is not something everyone knows, no. This bit of history only a handful of people know and now you are a part of it too.

Spiced Tea

Before the introduction of tea in Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon), the inhabitants of Sri Lanka would have a beverage called rice water instead. This is the water collected from draining rice after it has been boiled. Into this water rich in starch, the people would add a little salt and sip it as their afternoon drink. Just as how we personalize our cups of tea or any beverage we enjoy, the rice water would have own personal touches added to it; green chilli, spices such as coriander and other tidbits for an upgrade. Such upgrades made the rice water into other creations like Buttermilk and Coriander water. For the sweet-toothed there was another solution! The use of sugar was not common until after the industrial production of sugar in Sri Lanka in the 1950s, so meanwhile the people would have something called coconut jaggery with their coriander water!

The Rise And Fall Of Coffee

It was in the 1820s when coffee began its first walk of fame as the proud prince of Sri Lanka. It was Edward Barnes, a British Official, who first introduced coffee in Sri Lanka. Edward Barnes was initially the acting Governor and then in 1824 became the Governor of Sri Lanka. A part of this history that you might not have known is that this Governor took his coffee very seriously. He took it so seriously that his words were published in school text books for children to learn and families would often have a laugh about his words that went along the lines of “This country’s first need is coffee, its second need coffee and its third…coffee”.

In the 1860s, a British planter James Taylor set foot in Ceylon. This is a crucial moment in Ceylon Tea’s History because this was just a few years before coffee faced its doom. A disease called “coffee-rust” developed among the coffee plants and spread rapidly throughout plantations destroying all the crops. This hit Sri Lanka’s exportation economy right in the gut. Why James Taylor is most crucial here is that during his time in Ceylon, he carried out tea experiments in his own back yard. By the time our coffee prince broke his crown and Sri Lanka had lost all hope, James Taylor saved the day. He had already successfully harvested tea in his backyard and even had a considerable quantity ready for shipping! Tea was successful enough for our beloved Sherlock Holmes creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to actually pen it down in his short story ‘De Profundis’, “Not often is it that men have the heart when their one great industry is withered, to rear up in a few years another as rich to take its place, and the tea fields of Ceylon are as true a monument to courage as is the Lion of Waterloo.”

Tea Of Life

Now we fast forward through several decades of numerous trials and errors and we stop right between 1946 to 1948 when Ceylon is just about to gain its Independence. During this period the British officials not only wanted Tea to win the hearts of the export countries but also Sri Lanka’s own inhabitants. The officials went around the country freely distributing Ceylon’s Tea to people and funnily enough the good ol’ expatriates took one look at the tea and ran for it. They thought this was some sort of conspiracy and that they were without a doubt being fed some strange liquid! The British had to come up with plan B, they then started demonstrating to the public by drinking the liquid themselves. After gifting several batches of free tea, people actually began taking a second look at their gifts.

Tea Treats

Tea Treats

On the successful introduction of tea followed the introduction of the infamous tea biscuits! This was a far more complex procedure because people ended up dissolving the entire biscuit inside the tea and were utterly insulted at being fed this rough broth. After this disaster, several more demonstrations were conducted by officials of just dipping the biscuits half way just enough to moisten it so it would melt away gloriously in the mouth.

The first biscuits introduced to the country were British biscuits of which Marie became extremely popular. In Sri Lanka though, people pronounce it as Maah-ree as opposed to Muh-ree. Marie biscuits and other varieties of biscuits were eventually manufactured by Sri Lanka’s first ever biscuit producing facility Maliban.

Milk Tea Being Made

Milk Tea Uprising

It was sometime later that milk was added into the tea and our beloved ‘Milk Tea’ came into existence. By the 1950s ‘tea break’ had already been introduced in schools. This is a fifteen-minute break in schools indicated by a bell at around half-past ten for tea time. Maids would come around serving tea for teachers and the children would be allowed to go have a tea-bite.

After the Independence of Ceylon in 1948, the tradition was still followed and now it is fair to say that people do live on tea! We have our own little cups and saucers, our own personalized ways of tea habits; of pouring tea onto the saucer and sipping it directly from the saucer, dipping the biscuits completely and having a spoon ready in case the biscuit snapped and flopped right in, adding different spices and having tea solve an ailment one suffers from.

Tea Diversity

There are delicious strains of tea from different parts of the world that it would be unjust to say Ceylon Tea is any superior. It was India that gave James Taylor the knowledge on tea plantation that he had used to experiment with in his estate in Ceylon and would use to eventually save an entire nation’s economy. It was a Chinese habit of first drinking boiled water with tea leaves in it. The tea of Sri Lanka owes its success to several nations so no we cannot say ours is better. What we can say with great certainty though is that tea saved our little nation’s entire economy and so tea in Ceylon then and Sri Lanka now is much more than just a beverage, it’s a country’s reminder and a family’s time together. Simply put, we give you something Tealicious!     

 

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