Sri Lankan agriculture was considered as self-sufficient subsistence-based agriculture with paddy as the major crops and other crops such as vegetables, fruits, yams, pulses and spices crops until western colonial powered on Sri Lanka about five hundred years ago. The structure of the Sri Lankan subsistence agricultural sector has, however, been changed during the period of colonization (1510 – 1948) especially in British era with the introduction of plantation crops. Coffee, Tea, and Rubber were recognized as prominent plantation crops introduced by British. It was empirically proved that several socioeconomic and physical changes were too taken place with the introduction of tea plantations relatively faster that contribute much to the overall production, employment, and trade etc. in the country. The tea grown in Sri Lanka is classified in to three different elevation zones such as high grown (upcountry teas) which teas are grown in the Badulla and Nuwara Eliya districts generally fall above 1200 m elevation, low grown (Low country teas) are generally cultivated below 600 m elevation and found mainly in Galle, Matara, Ratnapura, Kegalle and Kalutara districts. Kandy and Matale districts fall into the middle-elevation zone (600 and 1200 m) and teas that are grown are known as Mid grown or Mid country tea. Tea as a plantation crop at present to contributes significant role not only for the economy of the country but also socio-cultural and political scenario.
With regard to the development of tea subsector, the year 1824 British brought a tea plant (Camellia sinensis)) from China and planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya as non-commercial tea plant. Experimental tea plants from Assam and Calcutta India were brought to Sri Lanka in the year 1839. At the same year, the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce was established. Nearly after two decades, the year 1867 James Taylor planted 19 acres of tea in the city of Kandy in Ceylon, at the Loolecondra Estate as the first commercial tea plantation. First tea consignment of Loolecondra Estate from Sri Lanka to London was done in 1873. This pioneering plantation was practice by trial and error and improved over the years around 145 years via the introduction and improvement of tea plantation, processing machines, and methods, by different individuals and companies. Ceylon association of planters was foundered in the year 1854. The year 1872, fully equipped tea factory was established. The first broking firm John Brothers & Co. was established in 1876 and the first public Colombo auction took place in 1883 under the guidance of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce. Tea plantation became greater than the coffee plantations while Colombo Tea Traders’ Association was formed in 1894 and Colombo Brokers’ Association was formed in 1896. One million tea packets sold at Chicago World’s Fair (1893). In 192, the Tea Research Institute was established and it helped boost the production and export of Ceylon Teas. The year 1932 Ceylon tea propaganda board was established and export of poor quality teas was prohibited. State plantation cooperation was established in the year 1954 while 1963 instant tea was introduced. The year 1965, Sri Lanka became a world’s largest tea exporter for the first time. First international tea convention was held in Sri Lanka in 1966. Further, British own tea states were nationalized by the Government of Sri Lanka in 1971. Sri Lanka Tea Board was the establishment in 1976. Export of Tea Bags was stated at in 1976. Addition to that, Tea Small Holdings Development Authority (TSHDA) was established on 1st February 1977 for effective coordination of support services, development of individual entrepreneurship of tea smallholders and inclusion of smallholder community into business inclined farmer organizations. The year 1980 Sri Lanka became the official supplier of the tea for the Moscow Summer Olympic Game. Export of Green Tea was started in 1982. Many of Government own tea plantations were privatized in 1992. In the same year, Tea Export Duty and Ad Valorem Taxes were abolished. Tea Research Board was also the establishment in 1992. Tea production was exceeded over 300,000 metric tons in the year 2000 while total tea production was reached to 310 800 metric tons in 2006. Regarding performance of tea sector, the contribution of tea for GNP has increased significantly from Rs million 10,332 (1996) to Rs million 74,065 (2012).
While considering the tea production, highest production of the country (331.4 Kg million) was the recorded the year 2010 and production have increased by 25.5% from 1996 (258.4 Million Kg) to 2012 (328.4 Million Kg).
Further, a number of Tea Small Holders in the year 2012 was recorded as 390346. In this context, tea as a crop contributes to providing more than 2 million job opportunities directly and indirectly.