Many an absorbing tale is related to the origin of tea based on religion, myth and philosophy.
The more famous story dates back to 2737 BC when the legendary Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, on one of his long travels, rested under the shade of a wild tea tree. A few leaves from this tree had fallen into a pot of water, which was being boiled for drinking. The glorious aroma attracted his attention, and on sipping this brew he found it tasted as good as it smelt, and this delectable drink was firmly launched in Courts of Cathay.
At the beginning of the 17th Century tea reached the West and the first public sale of tea in England took place in 1657, and swiftly became an integral part of daily life of British Society.
Tea is simply an infusion made with the leaves from the evergreen plant, Camellia sinensis. The plant is now widely grown in India, Ceylon and east Africa as well as in its homeland, China. The dark green glossy leaves are processed in a variety of ways to produce teas with different flavours. Green tea, like gunpowder, is produced by allowing the leaves to dry or wither in the open air, the then leaves are steamed, rolled and dried. Black teas such as Ceylon, Assam and Darjeeling, are produced from picked and withered leaves which are then broken to release the enzymes, the leaves are allowed to ferment for 31/2 – 41/2 hours before being dried in a warm air oven. By arresting the fermenting process for a black tea, a semi-fermented tea is produced with a different flavour.
HISTORY OF TEA IN SRI LANKA
Ceylon, as Sri Lanka was known in the 19th century, was a major grower and exporter of Coffee. In the 1860’s came the great coffee crash following the coffee blight, which destroyed the coffee plantations in the county.
The tea plant is not indigenous to Sri Lanka. Its origin being in China and the North Eastern parts of India. The seed was imported from China in 1824 and Assam in 1839, and grown in the Botancial Gardens of Peradeniya and Nuwara Eliya on an experimental basis. However, it was not until 1867 that the first commercial scale tea plantings were undertaken. The first clearings were opened by the brothers Solomon and Gabriel de Worms on Labookellie Estate in Ramboda District, from seed procured from China. At the same time, James Taylor planted tea on Loolecondra Estate in the Hewaheta District from seed of Assam Origin.
The first teas exported from Ceylon, 23 Lbs. Arrived in London in 1873. the exports increased to a staggering 82 Million Lbs. In 20 years, with the expansion of tea planting. Today, Sri Lanka has emerged as the leading exporter of tea in the world exporting 294.5 Million Kg in the year 2001.