Once upon a time the country off the southeastern coast of India that we now know as Sri Lanka had another name. It was called Ceylon and though the name would eventually change the tea that is grown there still bears the old one. Ceylon tea is a relatively new development, coming to the island only about a century and a half ago after the coffee crops there were severely damaged by disease.
It was in 1907, just a few decades after tea growing got underway there, that a publication called The Tropical Agriculturist and Magazine of the Ceylon Agricultural Society featured an article called “The Leading Teas of the World – Ceylon.” It was written by a gentleman identified as “the late Herbert Compton” and it’s perhaps just a bit on the dry side, with plenty of facts and figures, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
Compton opens with a reference to the island’s “nine (commercial) lives,” which also included such commodities as spices, pepper, and cocoa, but stresses that tea “still holds current pride of place as the staple crop of the Colony.” He summarizes the fall of coffee and the rise of tea and notes that about 160 million pounds of the latter was being produced annually at the time.
The majority of this ended up in the United Kingdom, not surprisingly, but substantial quantities ended up in Australasia, North America, and Russia. Next up is a description of Ceylon teas, which he likens to “a blend of Indian and China leaf,” and remarks that it is “silky and smooth to the palate.” From there it’s on to intricacies of pricing and whatnot that are more geared to professional tea buyers followed by a summary of some of the notable tea growing regions there.
Compton closes things by noting that Ceylon growers were beginning to turn their efforts from producing mostly black teas and including more green tea, the latter of which was designed to appeal to the American markets.
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