Ceylon Coffee Culture-- an article on growing coffee in Ceylon from the Feburary 17, 1878 New York Times


The New York Times, February 17, 1878, p. 10:




From Our Special Correspondent.

KANDY, Ceylon, Thursday, Dec. 20, 1877.
    Any one who wished to scent the spicy breezes that blow soft o'er Ceylon's Isle should come to Kandy. He will find no more spice in the atmosphere than in that of any other mountain region.

    It is a fresh, pure, and invigorating atmosphere, and of a refreshing coolness to one who comes from the lowlands of the coast or the stifling temperatures of Singapore and Batavia.

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    Kandy stands 1,800 feet above sea level, and is distant from Colombo by rail a little more than 70 miles. Very pretty is the scenery in and around Kandy, thanks to nature and the local Government. The former has given a liberal supply of hills and valleys and forests of tropical richness. The latter has made parks and gardens, walks and drives, and created an artificial lake of an area of many acres bordered by an excellent roadway...

    The only hostelry here is named The Queen's, but if the Queen knew how dirty and shabby and every way disagreeable the establishment is, she would order her name removed. Unfortunately there is not sufficient business to support two hotels, and the old story of careless monopoly is repeated. Comparatively few strangers come here, the great majority of tourists contenting themselves with a peep at Colombo and Pointe de Galle...

    Kandy is the centre of the coffee culture of Ceylon; coffee grows at an elevation of 1,800 feet and more, and the centre of the island has been found well adapted to it. There are now about 1,200 plantations--estates they call them here--of an average extent of about 250 acres each. Coffee land is very dear; an estate under cultivation, with the trees bearing, everything in good condition, and in a convenient locality, is worth £100, or $500, the acre. Wild and perfectly uncleared land is worth £13, or $65, the acre, and the planter who takes it must be at a heavy expense for clearing, and can realize nothing by way of returns under six years.

    Much money has been made in coffee culture in Ceylon, just as much money has been made in tobacco, cotton, or sugar in America. On the other hand, a great deal has been lost, and there are many men in Ceylon to-day who are poorer rather than richer in consequence of their experiments in coffee-raising.

    Yesterday a gentleman showed me over the coffee estate of his brother, who is now in England. It was in fine condition, thoroughly weeded, and with the trees in full vigor. It had been some 10 years in its present hands, and when I asked about the balance sheet of the business my entertainer said to me, "My brother would be better off to-day if he had never owned this estate. Taking everything into consideration, the expenses and receipts, and counting his own trouble and attention as nothing, if the place could be sold at a fair price to-morrow, the net proceeds for the 10 years would not equal the outlay by 10 or 20 percent."

    Most of the coffee-planters are young Englishmen with money or moneyed friends, who come or are apt to come to Ceylon to make a fortune. The balance are generally the representatives of wealthy individuals or firms in Colombo or Kandy, chiefly the former, and owe their positions to personal infuence, or the advancement of a few thousands by way of security.
    An insight into the business may be obtained from a few advertisements culled from the Ceylon Observer, published at Colombo. One firm advertises that it is prepared to make advances upon crops not yet gathered, and another announces that it will treat with parties making contracts for consignments. A person with money to lend desires a situation as manager of an estate, and another who can control assignments of coffee wishes a similar berth.

    I am told that nearly every house in Colombo is interested, one way and another, in the coffee estates, generally through advances to the planters while their crops are growing. The situation seems to be identical with that of cotton-planting on the Mississippi 20 years ago, when the planter received advances from the factor at New Orleans, so that when his crop came in it barely sufficed to wipe out the accumulated indebtedness.
    And the coffee-planters are not altogether unlike their fellows of cotton fame, if I may judge by the scenes, not always agreeable, I have witnessed around the hotel during my brief stay at Kandy. There has been a liberal consumption of beverages that cheer and inebriate, and the sounds of revelry by night extend into the wee small hours. The life on the estate has many features of solitude, and many planters whose balace-wheels are not well hung consider an occasional spree a necessary adjunct of a well-spent life.

    The factor in Colombo furnishes the supplies necessary for the estate, and charges a good commission for his trouble. The tools and machinery come from the same source; happily, the coffee-planter has less outlay in this respect than the cotton planter, as the tools are fewer and the machinery less costly. Spades, picks, axes, and mattockks are the principal implements. The coffee is separated from the husk by a "pulper," which costs far less than the cotton-gin for the same number of acres. A firm which has its houses in London and Kandy makes the most of this coffee machinery, and latterly it has found customers in Java, Brazil, and other countries where coffee is grown.

    In looking over the advertisements of this house, I was struck with the difference in price whether the machines were sold "to account," or for cash. I had previously observed that the walls of the hotel were freely placarded to the effect that no credit could be given, and by looking in the papers I found advertisements relating to the conduct of absconding debtors. This led me to make inquiries and ascertain that many of the coffee planters had a lofty indifference concerning filthy lucre when it was required of them, and felt themselves deeply insulted if a creditor ventured to hint that a settlement of that long-deferred bill would greatly oblige. Not unusually they depart from Ceylon after paving it with their promises to pay and return to England to that blissful happiness only found when creditors are thousands of miles away. History repeats itself; we had many intances of this sort of thing in America in the good old days before the war, and, unhappily, we have many of them there to-day.
T. W. K.    

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Ceylon Coffee Culture 1878
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Coffee in Nicaragua 1894
Coffee Culture in Mexico 1898
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Coffee Planting in Brazil 1899
Coffee Fields in Puerto Rico 1899

Classic Tea Articles:
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Tea Growing in Ceylon 1888
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