Unveiling the True Pioneers of Tea in Sri Lanka: The Rothschild Brothers



James Taylor

BY Lalin I De Silva –

Editor Ceylon Planters Society Bulletin

In the world of tea, the name James Taylor often takes center stage as the pioneer credited with introducing tea to Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon. However, recent research and historical evidence suggest that the true pioneers behind the flourishing tea industry in Sri Lanka were none other than the illustrious Rothschild brothers. While James Taylor played a significant role in the development of Ceylon’s tea industry, it’s time to acknowledge the pivotal contributions of the Rothschilds in laying the foundation for what would become one of the world’s foremost tea-producing regions.

Contrary to popular belief, the Rothschild brothers—Maurice and Eugene—were instrumental in establishing the first commercial tea plantation in Sri Lanka. Their venture began in the mid-19th century when they acquired land in the region of Pussellawa, nestled in the picturesque hills of Ceylon. This marked the genesis of what is now known as the Rothschild Tea Estate, a testament to their foresight and entrepreneurial spirit.

Historical records reveal that it was Eugene Leopold de Rothschild who initiated the cultivation of tea on their estate, drawing upon the expertise of experienced tea planters from India. Under his guidance, the Rothschild Tea Estate flourished, with meticulous attention to detail in every aspect of tea cultivation, from plant selection to processing techniques. The success of their enterprise soon paved the way for others to follow suit, transforming the landscape of Ceylon and propelling it into the ranks of the world’s leading tea producers.

While James Taylor’s contributions to the Sri Lankan tea industry are undeniable, it’s essential to recognize that he arrived on the scene several years after the Rothschilds had already established a thriving tea plantation. Taylor’s expertise undoubtedly contributed to the refinement and expansion of Ceylon’s tea cultivation practices, but the groundwork had been laid by the Rothschild brothers.

The enduring legacy of the Rothschild Tea Estate serves as a testament to their pioneering efforts and enduring impact on Sri Lanka’s tea industry. Today, the estate stands as a living tribute to their vision and dedication, continuing to produce some of the finest teas that grace cups around the globe.

It’s time to set the record straight and acknowledge the Rothschild brothers as the true trailblazers of tea in Sri Lanka. By shining a light on their contributions, we honor not only their legacy but also the rich tapestry of history that shapes the world of tea as we know it today.

This argument fails to address the pressing issues facing the tea industry, which include the significant challenges of employee outmigration, soaring production costs, declining productivity, and the looming threats of climate change. We have meticulously documented these concerns in our early warnings report titled “10 billion $ Annual Revenue from the Plantation Sector” and distributed copies to key stakeholders, including His Excellency Ranil Wickremasinghe, urging for corrective action.

Despite efforts to raise awareness, the response from the Presidential Secretariat and relevant ministries has been lackluster, with decisions often being stalled and minimal follow-up.

As we have highlighted publicly, effective leadership is crucial in addressing these issues. Without proactive measures from the top, the industry risks further deterioration. It is imperative that decisive action is taken to safeguard the future of the tea sector and the livelihoods it supports.


“The Empire of Tea:

The Remarkable History of the Plant That Took Over the World” by Alan Macfarlane and Iris Macfarlane

“Tea and Empire:

James Taylor in Victorian Ceylon” by Angela McCarthy

“The Ceylon Tea Estates Directory” by George A. F. Tucker

Rothschild Tea Estate website: [link]

Sri Lanka Tea Board archives