Sri Lanka: Tracing the origins of Ceylon tea

The tea plantations in the highlands of Sri Lanka supply the leaves that fill tea cups across the globe.

Lisa Golden, Sorin Furcoi | | Poverty & Development, Business & Economy, Asia

Nuwara Eliya District, Sri Lanka - Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world after water. But the drink, which is the mainstay of many cultures, is subject to the same volatile market forces as oil or gold.

Sri Lanka is the world’s fourth largest exporter of tea, behind China, India and Kenya, and relies on the industry to employ formally and informally one million of it’s 20.6 million people, according to the Sri Lanka Tea Board. Tea accounts for 17 percent of Sri Lanka’s exports.

The largest importer of Ceylon tea is Russia and other members for the Commonwealth of Independent States. Iran, Iraq and Syria were some of the biggest consumers of Sri Lankan tea, and conflict in these areas has put a strain on the industry, according to the Tea Board report. China’s recent economic troubles, as well as low oil prices in another large importer, the United Arab Emirates, mean that tea exports could face another hit in 2016.

Market analysts observe, however, that there is significant growth in tea consumption in large markets such as the United States, where health-conscious consumers are looking for better alternatives to sugary fizzy drinks and young, wealthy millennials are showing interest in speciality teas. There is also growing demand for "ready-to-drink" tea products.


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