Tea for Taylor | Daily News

Tea for Taylor

Taylor tea country is great for clearing the mind on environmentally friendly walks
Taylor tea country is great for clearing the mind on environmentally friendly walks

“The factory was in the bungalow. The leaf was rolled on tables on the verandah by hand, i.e. from wrists to elbow, while the firing was done in chulas or clay stoves over charcoal fires, with wire trays to hold the leaf. The result was a delicious tea which we bough up locally at Rs 1.50 per lb.” - pioneer of Ceylon tea maker James Taylor

It should be a truth universally acknowledged that when a well meaning and passionate person or small team discovers a new and promising enterprise that it won’t be long before the vultures get wind of it, steal it and turn it into something that will be too big to survive, quite contrary to the current propaganda of ‘too big to fail’ - just remember what happened to the dinosaurs. We only have to look at banking in the West, the Mayflower story of 400 years ago and a great many more such stories to see how noble enterprises have been destroyed by greed, exploitation and much worse, when taken over by profit-centred corporations and the like.

And so it was with the story of the humble and unassuming James Taylor, a Scot from a large family, who lost his father early and couldn’t live with his stepfather, such that he set off in 1852 for Ceylon at the age of 16, never to return to his homeland - a great testament also to the people of Sri Lanka that they made him feel at home, which became the Loolecondera estate in Delthota, District of Hewaheta Lower, where he became the first manager of the first tea plantation, a job he held until a year before his death. It was said that his first and final love was tea - he was never married - and that while everyone else was drinking coffee around him and lamenting the invasion of the ghastly Hemileia vastatrix, a fungal disease of coffee that sounds more like a fatal blood disease, he was planning the first tea plantation in Ceylon, but not before consulting a professional, for in 1866 he took off to India to learn how to grow it from seed.

On his return from India in 1867, he planted the first seedlings in Field 7 of the Loolecondera estate on 19 acres, and processed the tea on the verandah of his bungalow, hand rolling it on tables. After much experimentation and the use of a clay stove with charcoal fires for oxidising the leaves, he started selling teas, locally to begin with, receiving wide acclaim and then honed his skills further after consulting some Assam growers from India, “With regard to the manufacture of tea, I learned that mainly from others & from reading, but it took a lot of experimenting before I was very successful. Mr. Nobel, an Indian tea planter from Cacher, passed through to see a neighbouring coffee Estate, and I got him to show me the way to pluck & wither & roll with a little leaf growing on some old tea bushes in my bungalow garden.

” By 1872 he built a fully equipped factory on the estate, including his own designed rolling machine (“I have a machine of my own invention being made in Kandy for rolling tea which I think will be successful”), and by 1875 he sent his first shipment to the London Tea Auction. By 1890, production was ramped up to just shy of 30,000 tonnes from an initial yield of a mere 23 lbs in the beginning. At this point, Sir Thomas Lipton entered the stage and developed the tea industry and export market with Taylor, but Taylor sadly died in 1892, one year before a million packets of tea were sent to the Chicago World’s Fair.

Such was James Taylor’s dedication to the industry that he died only a year after being dismissed as manager, despite being the founder, and, during the forty years he spent in Sri Lanka, he took one holiday and spent it studying tea in Darjeeling. But he was to have the last laugh as he has been quite thoroughly celebrated by so many since, including being awarded a silver tea service. Written on his headstone is, “In pious memory of James Taylor of Loolecondera Estate Ceylon, the pioneer of the cinchona and tea enterprise in this island, who died 2 May 1892, aged 57 years”, and for the 100th anniversary of his death, the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom in Sri Lanka stated in 1992, “It can be said of very few individuals that their labours have helped to shape the landscape of a country, but the beauty of the hill country as it now appears owes much to the inspiration of James Taylor, the man who introduced tea cultivation to Sri Lanka.” Not only that, in 1997 a plaque was added to his grave by Japanese dignitaries; a grave that consists of a granite slab and headstone, which was erected as a result of a sort of 19th century crowdfund that included Sir Thomas Lipton amongst the 52 donors. He is also commemorated in many other ways: his statue was erected at Auchenblau, he appears on tea tins, sculptures and exhibits at the Ceylon Tea museum built in his honour in 1992, and is the subject of a 16 foot high bust at Mlesna tea castle in Talawakelle, built in 2008.

He was a true legend and so remember when drinking your next cup of tea the huge trials and tribulations it took the early pioneer James Taylor to bring the world the second most drunk drink after water.

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