The Man Who ‘Tailored’ Ceylon Tea: James Taylor

It was in 1824 that the first tea plant was brought to Ceylon from China by the British and planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya, Kandy. It is considered to be the first non-commercial tea crop to be grown in the island which later will go on to give birth to world famous Ceylon Tea. Further experimental planting of Ceylon Tea had begun in 1839 with tea plants brought from Assam and Calcutta through the East India Company.

Little over two decades later, in 1867, a Scotsman named James Taylor was given the task of growing tea on just 19 acres of land in Loolecondera Estate in Kandy. This is considered the first commercial crop of Ceylon Tea to be grown. With the devastating coffee blight that swept through the coffee plantations of Ceylon, coffee cultivators moved over to tea as an alternative commercial crop. Taylor eager to experiment with tea, soon set up his own tea ‘factory’ probably the first in Ceylon in the verandah of his bungalow in Loolecondera Estate.

Here the leaves were rolled by hand on tables and the firing done on clay stoves over charcoal fires, with wire trays to air the leaves. The end result was a delicious tea, probably the first commercial cup of Ceylon Tea to be brewed. Taylor later created basic machinery for rolling the leaves and had many people to support him process the tea.

Soon enough plantations surrounding Loolecondera such as Hope, Rookwood and Mooloya also began transforming into Ceylon Tea plantations and were amongst the first tea estates established on the island. Taylor started a fully-equipped tea factory in Loolecondera estate in 1872. In 1875, Taylor managed to send the first shipment of Ceylon Tea to London tea auction, marking the beginning of the fascinating story of Ceylon Tea.

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