The story of Ceylon tea begins over two hundred years ago, when the country that is now known as Sri Lanka, was still a British Colony. Coffee was then the dominant crop on the Island.However towards the 1860s coffee plantations were devastated by a fungal disease called Hemileia vastatrix or coffee rust, better known as "coffee leaf disease" or "coffee blight". The death of the coffee industry marked the end of an era and virtually all the remaining coffee planters in Ceylon switched to the production and cultivation of tea.
In 1824 a tea plant was brought to Ceylon by the British from China and was planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya . Further tea plants were brought from Assam and Calcutta in India to Peradeniya in 1839 through the East India Company.
Commercial cultivation of tea commenced in Ceylon in 1867. Reflecting on the bold initiative, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stated that, “…the tea fields of Ceylon are as true a monument to courage as is the lion at Waterloo”
In 1867, James Taylor, a Scotsman, marked the birth of the tea industry in Ceylon by starting a tea plantation in the Loolecondera ( Loolkandura ) estate in Kandy . Ceylon Tea was being favourably received by buyers in London, proving that tea could be a profitable plantation crop.
In 1872 the first official Ceylon tea was shipped to England and contained two packages of 23lbs (10Kg). The first recorded shipment, however, was dispatched to England in 1877 aboard the vessel The Duke of Argyll.
Soon enough plantations surrounding Loolkandura, including Hope, Rookwood and Mooloya to the east and Le Vallon and Stellenberg to the south, began switching over to tea and were among the first tea estates to be established on the island.
By the 1880s almost all the coffee plantations in Ceylon had been converted to tea. British planters looked to their counterparts at the East India Company and the Assam Company in India for guidance on crop cultivation. Coffee stores were rapidly converted to tea factories to meet the demand for tea. As tea production in Ceylon progressed, new factories were constructed and an element of mechanization was introduced. Machinery for factories was brought in from England. Marshals of Gainsborough – Lancashire, Tangyes Machine Company of Birmingham, and Davidsons of Belfast supplied machines that are in use even today.
As Ceylon tea gained in popularity throughout the world, a need arose to mediate and monitor the sale of tea. An auction system was established and on 30th July 1883, and the first public sale of tea was conducted. The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce undertook responsibility for the auctions, and by 1894 the Ceylon Tea Traders Association was formed. Today almost all tea produced in Sri Lanka is conducted by these two organizations.