By Lorna Reeves • Photography by John O’Hagan
Sri Lanka, which lies just 19 miles off the southeastern coast of India in the Bay of Bengal, boasts an impressive legacy of tea production, which began in 1867 when it was a British colony known as Ceylon. Its success in tea came about largely because of misfortune in its coffee industry. Savvy businessmen like Scotsman James Taylor snapped up lands at low prices that were once home to productive plantations but that lay fallow because of a blight that obliterated the coffee bushes. They planted them with tea bushes instead, which thrived in the island’s tropical climate that allows a year-round harvest. During the ensuing 150 years, popularized by companies such as Lipton, Ceylon tea became a globally recognized brand—so much so that the name was retained even though the country gained its independence from Great Britain in 1948 and had come to be known as Sri Lanka by 1972.