The History of Sri Lanka Coffee
No one knows when coffee first came to Sri Lanka. However, it was noted by Sir James Emerson Tennent in the 1800s that "As to coffee, although the
plant had existed from time immemorial on the island (having probably been
introduced from Mocha by the Arabs), the natives were ignorant of the value of its berries, and only used its leaves to flavour their curries, and its
flowers to decorate their temples. It was not until nearly a century after the arrival of the Dutch that one of their Governors attempted to cultivate
it as a commercial speculation.
The Dutch abandoned the cultivation to focus on their Javanese plantations because they did not want to oversupply the market which would have dropped
the price from the Javanese coffee plantings. However according to the Report of Governor Schreuder "Coffee succeeeded very well in the western
parts of the island. It was superior in qualitly to the coffee of Java, and approached near to that of Arabia, whence the first coffee plants came."
The Dutch also brought seedlings from their Javanese plantations to Sri Lanka.
These coffee plants were brought plants from Java that had previously been procured from what is now Yemen and Ethiopia. These Javanese plants did not
succeed well at the lower elevations where the Dutch experimented with coffee growing.
It was the British who had now conquored the highland interior who successfully commecialised coffee as the first hugely
successful export crop from Sri Lanka.
Cutting down the Mountain Forests of Ceylon
The higher plateaus and peaks were rapidly and aggressively annexed and deforested and the acreage under coffee doubled from 80,000 acres to 162,700
acres by 1867. Only the Nuwara Eliya plateau escaped the transformation offorest and patana lands. At the lower elevations, the locals cashed in on
land sales and acquired large acreages. In 1857 67,453,680 lbs was exported
out of Ceylon. Today it is negligible.
The Coffee Blight
Due to the British only focussing on monoculture coffee without shade, the conditions were created for a devastating fungus. This was the famous
coffee blight. This coffee blight destroyed the plantations and forced the
British to find other crops they could export.
Fortunately for them the tea bush, camilia senensis, is not as susceptible to the fungus and that is
why Sri Lanka today is the leading exporter of tea worldwide.
We feel tea as it is grown today continues to be highly destructive to the upland ecosystem. This can be witnessed by the fact most tea estates have
no A-horizon of soil remaining and very little biodiversity.
Traditional varieties of coffee
Though some of the more recent hybrid coffees have been introduced, Hansa Ceylon Coffee is encouraging farmers to keep with the traditional more flavourful