Although camellia sinensis plant is not native to Sri Lanka, it was destined to thrive there. Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon, was originally a coffee growing region. In 1867 the agriculture landscape was about to changed dramatically. Scotsman James Taylor, who learned tea growing in India, developed 19 acres of land at the Loolecondera Estate in Kandy into the first Ceylon Tea Plantation.
Two years later, in 1869, coffee blight attacked the coffee farms in Sri Lanka. Quaintly termed “Devastating Emily” the disease changed the landscape of agriculture in Sri Lanka, of the 1,700 coffee farms only 400 remained and by 1900 coffee was grown on only 12,000 acres, down from a high of 250,000 acres.
Farmers either abandoned their land or converted their farm to the new future export: tea. Taylor quickly saw the potential for Ceylon tea and in 1872 expanded the business to include a fully equipped tea factory with a rolling machine that he invented.
Taylor dedicated his life to Ceylon tea, leaving his estate only once, to research the tea growing practices in Darjeeling. The Loolecondera Estate today is managed by the Janatha Estate Development Board where a small patch of Taylor’s tea is still being plucked.