For tea lovers the island nation of Sri Lanka is probably best known as a producer of a type of tea known as Ceylon – which was the former name of the country. But it wasn’t always so. Prior to about 1870, coffee was actually one of the main crops grown there and tea was of marginal importance. The fortunes of the latter were helped considerably by an outbreak of disease that affected coffee plants and by 1885 tea production was on the verge of overtaking coffee.
The year 1885 was also noteworthy as the year of publication for Ceylon & Her Planting Enterprize: In Tea, Cacao, Cardamoms, Cinchona, Coconut, and Areca Palms, by A.M. & J. Ferguson. It’s a slim volume – only about 77 pages worth – and as the title indicates is not devoted solely to tea, but even so there are plenty of interesting tidbits for amateur tea historians (guilty).
According the Fergusons, the export of tea from Ceylon began in the 1875 season with a rather meager quantity of 482 pounds. By the time the authors were writing their book, presumably around 1884, they estimated that the annual harvest for that season would amount to more than two million pounds, which was quite a nice jump.
While this was obviously intended as a practical tome, as evidenced by such chapter titles as Ceylon as a Field for the Investment of Capital and Energy, there are some interesting tidbits scattered throughout, as with so many of these historical tea tomes. The authors devote part of the first chapter to discussing tea and all of Chapter Three, which is titled Tea Cultivation: Rules for the Guidance of a Young Tea Planter.
A lot of this chapter is given over to that dry practical stuff and perhaps a few too many graphs for the casual reader, but it opens with a section in which the authors address these future planters in more down to Earth terms, advising that they learn the business before jumping in feet first, pay cash and avoid loans, as well as offering less politically correct (and grammatically dubious) advice as “learn to know your coolies.”
It’s yet another in the series of a zillion or so old tea books that I’ve covered in these pages and it’s also available for free at such online archives as this one.
See also: Main Ceylon Tea Growing Regions
See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.
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