There’s a Fungus Among Us – That’s Why the Brits Drink Tea Instead of Coffee
In 17th Century Europe, the drinking water was usually pretty nasty and contaminated. It had to be boiled to make it safe to drink; however, boiling didn’t do much for the taste. That gave Europeans the excuse/reason to enjoy fermented beverages, such as beer, wine, and liquor. It also promoted coffee consumption, as the water was boiled to make coffee along with other hot beverages. Coffee shops were very popular in the mid-1600s. (I wonder if they had Starbucks-type shops around.)
Ceylon (former name of Sri Lanka) was one of the top producers of coffee back then, supplying the world around. The Brits simply couldn’t get enough of it. And we all know what happens if we go cold-turkey. Not a pretty sight! Everything was going peachy-keen from the inception of coffee plantations in the late 1820s in the hilly Kandy region, until around 1875, when the coffee rust fungus practically wiped out Ceylon’s prime coffee crops. It’s ironic, because that had a huge part in the growth (no pun intended – well, maybe) of Sri Lanka’s tea industry.
As a side note, Rothschild family members traveled to Ceylon in the mid-to late-1830s and starting growing coffee. Then in early 1841, they started growing tea. The tea they grew was delicious, of course, but their main purpose in life was to grow coffee. They named the coffee/tea gardens “Rothschild Estate” – which still exists today, albeit not owned any longer by the Rothschilds. For their own reasons, they really never commercialized coffee or tea.
Enter James Taylor – no, not the “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)” James Taylor – but this James Taylor, aka the Pioneer of Tea Industry in Ceylon – the man who gets (and deserves) a lot of credit for the successful commercialization of the tea industry in Ceylon.
Taylor was born Scotland in 1835. He landed in Ceylon in 1852 at the ripe old age of 17, settling in at a tea estate near Kandy. The Kandy Region is one of seven main tea-growing regions in Ceylon (which became Sri Lanka in 1972).
Taylor grew his green stuff in his Ceylon garden and rolled it on his kitchen table. (No, not that stuff!) He oxidized the tea in clay ovens. Taylor knew he had a winner in Ceylon Tea! So in 1873, he packed nearly 20 kilograms of his version of Black Gold – Ceylon Tea – and shipped it to the London Tea Auction.
James Taylor gathered equipment and advice, not necessarily in that order, and gave a huge push to what today is known as the most exquisite tea in the world – Ceylon Tea!
Another side note – although Ceylon reverted to its original name, Sri Lanka, in 1972, they opted to maintain nearly a century and a half of pride and excellence and continued with the name Ceylon Tea, as it had been known for so very long!