CEYLON TEA INDUSTRY

Articles taken from the “ Twentieth Century Impressions of Ceylon “   printed by Lloyd’s Greater Britain Publishing Company Limited in 1907

 

THE TWENTIETH CENTURY IMPRESSIONS OF CEYLON – 1907

 

By. M KELVAY BAMBER M.R.A.C., M.R.A.S., F.C.S

Tea is not indigenous to Ceylon, but was first introduced in December, 1839 from India. In that year Dr.Wallich sent sees of the then newly discovered Assam tea to the Peradeniya Gardens, and he followed up the consignment in 1840 by dispatching about two hundred plants. It was represented to Government that tea was likely to prove a new and profitable speculation and a valuable source of revenue, and some of the plants were sent to Nuwara Eliya, and are supposed to be still in existence on Naseby Estate. In 1841-42 one or two planters imported plants from China and Assam, the former being planted on Rothschild Estate, Pussellawa, and the latter on Pen-y-lan, Dolosbage. The first tea was apparently manufactured in Pussellawa by Messrs. Worms, but the3 cost was prohibitive. The plants thrive well, however, on Kondegalla,on the Ramboda Pass, at about 4,000ft. elevation and in 1865 the Ceylon Company Ltd., took over the small properties of Messrs. Worms, including the small extent of tea on Kondegalla. Attempts were made at the time to manufacture the tea by experienced Indian planters and Bengali coolies, but so little success was achieved that Ceylon planters generally did not take up the cultivation.

An exception to the rule was Mr. Tailor, of Loolekondura Estate, Hewaheta, who collected seeds from Peradeniiya and planted them along roadsides in 1866. An experienced Ceylon coffee planter Mr. Arthur Morice, was then sent to report on the Assam Tea Districts, a valuable report by him being subsequently published by Government. A consignment of Assam hybrid tea seed was then imported, and planted on LooleCondera, in a forest clearing of 20 acs. Although the cultivation of this tea met with a fair measure of success, it was not until Mr. William Cameron, an ex-Indian planter, so improved the local system of pruning and plucking tea as to show a wonderful difference in increased crop returns, that Ceylon planters saw sufficient inducement to cultivate tea on a large scale.

During 1873 and 1874 many plants of both the Assam hybrid and the China variety were distributed from the Peradeniya and Hakgala Botanical Gardens, and then large quantities of Assam seed were imported from Calcutta, but the comparative scarcity and dearness of tea seed helped to restrict the industry   up to 1883, when seed became from some of the older local plantations.

The prevalence of leaf disease, and afterwards, of green bug, on coffee, and later the overproduction of cinchona, now caused planters to look to the new product in earnest, and a rush into tea took place, increasing rapidly from 1884 onwards.

There are also about 3000 acres of tea in native gardens. Owing to the large amount of rubber now planted amongst tea in the low-country, the total yielding tea area may now be looked upon as 380,000acres.

The bulk of the area under tea lies at an elevation of over 3,000 ft., but it is planted at all elevations from almost sea-level to nearly 7,000 ft., on Excelsior Estate, Kandapola, this probably being the heights cultivated in the world. There is a great difference between the tea grown at low level and high elevations, partly owing to diversity of soil, but more to climatic influences. Low country teas are strong, without a distinct flavor, while high grown teas are remarkable for their good quality and usually fine flavour.

The soils of Ceylon on which tea is grown are very variable, ranging from the present quartz, containing less than 0.05 per cent of nitrogen, to rich forest loams containing up to 0.5 per cent. Of nitrogen. Almost all have been derived from the decomposition of gneiss and similar rocks in situ, there being practically non alluvial soils, as in Assam and other tea-growing countries. Chemically the average Ceylon soil is poorer than the rich volcanic soils of Java, or those of southern India, and is also physically different to these and the soils of Assam; but although Ceylon teas have not the strength of some Assam teas, or he combined strength of Darjeelings, they hold their own as regards general fine quality, especially the teas grown in high elevations.

The climate of the various hill districts and low-country districts in which tea is grown is very variable with means temperatures ranging from65 F to 85 or higher, and a rainfall of from   80 ins to over 250 ins. To the south-west of the mountain ranges the climate is more uniform throughout the year than on the north-east, where there are more marked differences between the dry and wet periods and the tea is more subject to prolonged droughts. There are two seasons, the one during the south-west monsoon, when rain is more or less continues, from June to September on the hills facing south-west, while it is dry on the other side, the drought being often accentuated by high winds. The second season is during the north-east monsoon, from October to January, which is usually characterised, after the first burst, by fine mornings with heavy rain later in the day.

The effect of climate   on the flavor of tea is very marked, the colder, less forcing conditions in the hills tending to check the actual rate of growth and allow   of the fuller development of the essential flavouring constituents. During the months in which growth is more active, viz. March to May, and again to a less extent in October and November, quality deceases eve in the highest, to reappear when  the rate of growth is checked by less favourable weather. In the Uva district a few days of dry, windy weather will completely change the character of the teas, giving a flavor that enhance the value of the tea immediately.

Much of the tea in Ceylon was planted    on the old coffee and cinchona estates, as the latter products died out or decreased   in value, and   of recent years it has been found necessary to manure artificially in order to maintain the yield. This is accompanied in most cases with very systematic cultivation    of the soil, and careful and more scientific treatment of the bushes with regard to pruning and plucking, with the result that the bushes are now as strong and vigorous s ever, and show every indication of permanent improvement. It might be thought that quality would be deteriorate when manuring became necessary, but experience has shown that this is not the case, provided the manure employed is not of too forcing a character, and the general aim now is to improve the physical conditions of the soil by green manuring and cultivation, and to manure sufficiently to give healthy frames to the bushes, and so make them capable of maintaining the best average yields before any manure was employed. A continuance of this policy will certainly make for the permanence of the industry, the most important in Ceylon.

The yield of tea per acre vary in every field of an estate, depending largely on the soil, jat, original planting, and subsequent treatment. It ranges from 300 to 1,200 lbs, but 50 to 600 lbs. would be a good yield, the average for Ceylon being about 450 lbs.

The planting up of shade and wind-belt trees through the tea. From about 1889 onwards, no doubt did much to improve the and probably minimized the risks of fungus pests to some extent. The trees employed for this purpose were chiefly the Australia Gravillea, robusta, and at high elevations (Acacia dealbata) Cedrella Toons, and Albizzia, the growth of which must have considerably improved the appearance of the hill districts of Ceylon. Recently, Albizzia Molucanna and Dadps Erythrina have been more widely planted throughout the tea, where the elevation is suitable, and kept pollarded   to supply      material for green manuring purposes, as the gain of nitrogen from these leguminous tree is very considerable and the humus is particularly valuable for improving   the soil.

Crotalaria striata is another native plant now much employed for the same purpose, and has the advantage of giving three or four crops before he trees yield anything.

The life of a tea bush is unknown, but in China there are many of great age, and in Java China Jat bushes of sixty to eighty years are still flourishing. The same may be said in Ceylon, as the oldest field of tea on LooleCondera, now thirty-eight years of age, is still looking remarkably well, and continue to yield its 400 or 500 lbs. of tea per acre per annum without manure. Many fields of higher jat, such as “Assam indigenous “now over twenty years of age, are still as vigorous as ever, though cultivation has had to be given to maintain this condition; but from the free down with which they respond to careful treatment or resting, there is no reason why they should not be as permanent as the hardier China Varity first imported into Ceylon.

The manufacture is the tea is less simple than it looks to anyone passing casually through a well-organised factory, for to get the full advantage of the leaf every care has to be taken that the best conditions are obtained at each stage of the manufacture. To begin with, the carefully-plucked leaf is sent to the factory two or three times during the day, to prevent heating in the coolie baskets. It is hen spread on the withering tats, in the lofts above the rolling and drying- rooms, in a way to insure a succession of leaf becoming withered to sit the roller accommodation. If this were not carefully arranged much of the leaf would be over withered or dries, and a less valuable tea would result. The loss in weight in withering caries from 30 to 45 per cent., or even more. The amount depends on the weather conditions when the leaf is plucked, wet leaf often containing 12 to 15 per cent, of rain water adhering to it. To remove this and promote more even withering, the lofts in most factories are filled with fans, by which the warm air from the drying-rooms below is circulated through the withering-rooms, enabling a good wither in from eighteen to twenty-four hours, the period in which the active enzyme, causing the later oxidation assumes its maximum development.

When withered the leaf is sent to the rolling-room is masses of 200 to 300 lbs., the product being emptied from the rollers several times to allow of the sifting out and removal of the finer grades, which do not require so much rolling as the larger leaves Every precaution is taken to keep the leaf from becoming unduly heated by friction, which would produce an undesirable dull soft liquor.

After rolling, the finer grades are put to oxidise in layers one or more inches thick, while the rolling of the larger leaves is continued. In the best factories every care is taken to insure cleanliness and almost sterile conditions for this process, special tables being employed. The Oxidising Enzyme assumes now produces the well-known coppery colour of the leaf, at the expense of some of the free tannin compounds, and the soluble matter assumes the rich colour seen in an infusion of black tea.

During this process a peculiar aroma is also developed, which gives some indication as to when the oxidation is sufficiently far advanced for the leaf to have the remainder of its moisture removed in the drying or firing machines. Different conditions under which the leaf is plucked, wet or dry, the rate o growth, and the extent of the wither, all have a marked influence on this oxidation process, which requires modifications to meet them to obtain satisfactory results.

Modern machinery has supersede the old fashioned chula system of firing which was too slow for present-day requirements, though probably its effect on the teas better than any system now employed. In the present machinery the leaf is dried on trays or travelling webs, through which a current of hot air is drawn by the aid of fans, or a natural draught. Here the leaf assumes the black appearance s it becomes desiccated, the change being chiefly due to the removal of the water, but partly also to increased oxidation and consequent darkening of the tannin and other products in the leaf before it becomes dry. The temperature employed in the various machines and factories ranges from 180 to 240 F. or even more, but about 210 F is the most common, and the average time of drying from 25 to 35 minutes.

The grading of the dried teas is the next process, and is one of the most important, as the fact of being “true to grade” or the reserve may considerably affect the price. Machine grading is chiefly employed for the sake of time and economy, but it is sometimes supplemented by hand sieving with advantage. The tea is then packed with the aid of rapidly vibrating machine, which shakes the tea down capacity into the chests, so that pressing with the hands or feet is unknown: in fact, at every stage of the manufacture machinery has as far as possible replace hand labour, with greater economy and cleanliness.

The work of a tea estate in the field and factory is done almost entirely by Tamil coolies from Southern India, under the direct superintendence of Europeans, About 400,000 coolies are employed, or rather more than one coolie per acre of tea. They are good workers, and are well looked after, medical assistance being rendered free. Their conditions of living and their power to earn money are far superior to these prevailing in their native village, and most of them are able to save and acquire land out of their pay.

The serious diseases affecting tea are very few, and are now so well recognized that any new outbreak could probably be checked at the beginning without serious expenditure or loss. In some districts serious diseases such as BoreaXyloborusCornicalus have now been prevalent for some years, and it has become a difficult matter to eradicate it, owing largely to the want of concerted action on the part of every estate affected. In order to try and effect a check on the spread of these or other diseases, a Plant Pest Ordinance will, it is hoped, be shortly passed, which would make it compulsory for immediate steps to be taken to eradicate disease whenever or wherever it appears.

There is a Government entomologist and mycologist in the Botanical Department at Peradeniya, whose duty is to give advice on any insect of fungus pests, and point out the methods of prevention and care, and their work has done much to produce he healthy condition of teas generally at the present time.

The exports of tea from Ceylon every fifth year from 1875, according to the Customs accounts, have been as follows:-

A tea cess of 30 cents on every 100 lbs. of tea exported is levied under special Ordinances, and is employed for the opening up and pushing of teas in the various markets of the island.

The chief markets to which Ceylon teas are distributed are –

Country

Distribution 1925

United Kingdom

112,620,026

Australasia

24,643,360

Russia

11,134,768

America

12,522,490

India

2,070,385

Africa

905,720

China

562,011

Other Countries

3,071,200

The area under tea has practically remained stationary since 1899, and although there is still some suitable land available, it is not likely to be opened up to any extent in the near future. No further forest land available above 5000 ft. for planting in tea, as it is reserved by Government for climatic reasons, and to insure a water supply to the low country cultivators. In the low- country rubber planting is extending rapidly both in virgin forest and on many tea estates. The growth of the rubber in the latter, especially when closely planted, will in a few years considerably affect the yield of such estates, but to counterbalance this many up-country estates are considerably increasing in yield as the result of the more scientific cultivation now being conducted, and far more attention is likely to be paid to this in he near future than to the planting up of fresh areas in tea.

The custom of taking pupils or “creepers” on estates to learn tea planting in a practical manner still continues, and seems to be on the increase. No doubt his is largely due to the new rubber industry, which affords good openings to men of experience on tea estates who re good at the management of coolies. How long this demand is likely t last is uncertain, but judging from the careful supervision that is required when rubber comes into required when rubber comes into bearing more Europeans will probably be required than is at present supposed.

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