Long before the tea evolution in the country the main crop development revolved around coffee. Coffee’s introduction to the country began with the Arabs planting coffee not for the berries but for the leaves. The country’s population ignorant back then of the quality of the beans used to use the leaves for cooking and to offer them in temples. Then around 1740 the Dutch began mass coffee production rivalling that of the Java coffee plantation. They found that the country’s atmosphere was perfect for coffee plantation and when experimented with the quality, it was superior to that of the Java. Thus began a love affair which was continued by the British colonial and lasted many years. Under the British rule, Coffee was the largest crop exported by Sri-Lanka providing livelihood to thousands of people. It was deemed as one of the best 10 coffees in the world, such was the quality of the coffee produced here. But Alas! Like all good things this story also came to an end.
Around 1869 the country and the rest of Asia were hit by an epidemic, what we call as “coffee leaf rust” that destroyed the whole of coffee plantation and thus began the origin of the tea and the glorious chapters of coffee were lost in the pages of history. But today after almost 150 years the Sri-Lankan coffee is making a comeback in the country and the world.
Nescafe came to Sri-Lanka with packed coffee and that awoke the native’s long forgotten love for coffee. Then came two people-Harm van Oudenhoven and Lawrence Goldberg. These people believed that some coffee beans must have survived the epidemic and began exploring the jungles in search of these beans. And their guess was absolutely right. They did find the old hidden treasures of the then Ceylon Coffee and plantation of coffee began.
The quality though slowly has begun to increase. The farmers began to identify the better crops and learnt the techniques of crop improvement and selection. The coffee board of India took interest and started guiding them on beans and climate conditions. Little by little the ration of good beans to bad in the coffee shipments improved.
Goldberg took over the Hansa Ceylon Coffee. The company was originally founded by the Dutchman in mid 90’s and It used to bill itself as Sri Lanka’s first gourmet coffee for 150 years specialising in quality Arabica and robust beans. They also operate cafes around the country providing coffee as authentic as you can find in Sri-Lanka. Other coffee places like Whight & Co, Coco Veranda, and Barefoot etc started popping up. Sea side cafes in Galle and luxurious hotels started providing different varieties of coffee. Coffee had finally come back to life.
Although coffee has a long way to go, it has already made a start. So indulge yourself in an authentic coffee at one of the little cafes or your resort or just grab a pack of Ceylon Coffee on your next trip to Sri-Lanka and travel back to the colonial era of coffee. You might even like it more than the tea there (especially if you are a coffee-lover like me). You won’t be disappointed!