Loolecondera: Sri Lanka’s First Tea Plantation 0 209

Loolecondera: Sri Lanka’s First Tea Plantation 0 210

It’s hard to imagine a time when ‘tea’ was not synonymous with ‘Sri Lanka’, but the now-booming industry that is Ceylon Tea has its origins in a humble field about 1.5 hours from Kandy, where a young Scotsman named James Taylor established Loolecondera Tea Estate, Sri Lanka’s first tea plantation. From these 19 acres grew what is now Sri Lanka’s 2nd biggest export industry.

James Taylor and The Great Tea Experiment

James Taylor did not intend to found an industry when he came to then-Ceylon. Starting out as an assistant supervisor on a coffee plantation in 1852 at the age of sixteen, he impressed his employers so much that at the age of 21, he was given complete charge of the Loolecondera Estate. It was there that Taylor planted his first field of tea seedlings in 1867, some of which are still alive and producing fine Ceylon tea today. Loolecondera was also where Taylor built Ceylon’s first fully-equipped tea factory in 1872, fitted out with machinery of his own invention.

Taylor’s ‘tea experiment’ turned out to be fortuitous when the coffee blight known as “Devastating Emily” swept through the coffee plantations, devastating the industry and ruining many planters. Those that survived, noting Taylor’s thriving field, switched their focus to planting tea instead, kickstarting the Ceylon Tea industry as we know it. Unfortunately for Taylor, this meant that his small plantation was eventually purchased by a larger company, and he was unceremoniously dismissed from his position in 1892; he died of dysentery shortly after.

Visiting Loolecondera Today

Now managed by the Janatha Estates Development Board, Loolecondera Tea Estate today may be visited by the public with the permission of the management. Within the grounds, you may with permission be allowed to tour the tea factory and observe the processing of the raw shoots into the familiar Ceylon tea beloved across the world. The Loolecondera Estate specialises in producing silver tip Ceylon tea, the rarest and priciest grade of Ceylon Tea – if you’re lucky, you may even get a taste!

If learning about a tea factory’s inner workings is not your cup of tea (ha!) and you’re more the nature-loving type, then step out into the grounds of the estate and head to the top of the estate, where a virgin montane forest has been preserved since the establishment of the estate, surrounded by tea plants. This carefully protected forest within the estate is a haven for endemic flora and fauna, and is noted for its natural biodiversity. You can also visit Field no 7, the original field of tea planted by James Taylor in 1867, which is still being cultivated: some plants are the original seedlings Taylor planted.

Alternatively, if you’d like some history with your fresh air, you can hike up the aptly named James Taylor Road to visit the ruins of Taylor’s log cabin, of which only the stone chimney remains standing, and from there trek across to Taylor’s Seat, a stone seat located atop a hill nearby, where it is said Taylor used to survey the plantation from a distance. If you’re in the mood for a more challenging trek, however, Kodagala Rock is situated within the estate grounds, a mere x km away from Taylor’s Seat. This natural rock formation offers a fantastic view over the surrounding vista, and is none too challenging a climb, although we advise being extra careful on the bare rock at the top.

A beautiful and fascinating piece of Sri Lankan history, Loolecondera is well worth your time to visit: so why not book a night or two at a cosy hill-country villa, guesthouse, or home-stay, and head over to experience it for yourself?

Feature image by Malki Perera.

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Misha'ari Weerabangsa loves the beach, but can't swim; loves the hill country, but is afraid of heights; loves old buildings, but hates the dust - are you sensing a theme here? In between reading articles and crunching numbers for her postgraduate degree in psychology, she writes about places she's been and things she's seen, both real and fictional.

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