Sri Lanka is the fourth largest producer of tea in the world. Until the mid-1800s, Sri Lanka's main crop was coffee, but the coffee rust fungus devastated plantations in 1869 and this was the point when Sri Lankan industry turned to tea. They grow tea all over the island, but mostly around 70N latitude in the Southern half of the teardrop-shaped island. The estates roughly encircle the central mountainous area at elevations between 100 and 2,500 metres.
The main tea growing areas are Sabaragamuwa, Nuwara-Eliya, Dimbula, Ruhuna, Uva, Uda Pussellawa, and Kandy. Tea in Sri Lanka is grown under varied ecological regimes which are grouped on the basis of elevation into three distinctive broad categories as low (below 600 m),medium (between 601-1200 m) and high elevation (above 1200 m) tea areas. The pioneer plantations in Sri Lanka originated from seeds obtained from Assam and China. The plants varies ranging from pure Assam (Manipuri) to Assam hybrids and the typical China jat and their hybrids. In the high elevation districts of Sri Lanka where frost is experienced, the China plant and its hybrids are preferred. However, now areas specific clones like TRISL 200,300 and 400 series clones are used for replanting.
Although tea is grown as a mono-crop, now inter cropping with some cash crops like rubber, pepper, coffee, cocoa, cloves, coconut and fruit crops are done particularly in the small holdings and less viable tea areas. In Sri Lanka, early days planting were on a plantation scale with the estates owned by privately or by private limited liability companies. However, subsequently small holdings owned by village peasants have been established adjacent to the large estates and leaves are supplied to the factories of the big estates. The Tea Small Holdings Development Authority provides assistance to the small tea growers in numerous way. The Asian Development Bank has also extended financial assistance to the small growers of Sri Lanka.
In Sri Lanka, plucking continues throughout the year. The entire production of tea is in the form of black tea and almost 98 percent is manufactured by orthodox method. However, the Sri Lankan Government pays subsidy to process some CTC teas, especially in plainer tea producing mid-elevation tea areas. The country may be small geographically, yet it ranks third in terms of world’s tea production. Tea from Sri Lanka is still known by the country's former name of Ceylon. Only about 10 percent of Sri Lankan tea may be sold privately. The rest is sold through the auctions in Colombo held every Tuesday and Wednesday throughout the year.