The earliest tea planting on the island of Sri Lanka dates back to the 1820s with experimental planting of Chinese tea plants leading to only very limited activity for the first few decades. It was not until the 1860s that the tea industry made progress on Sri Lanka, driven by increasing demand globally.
The major opportunity came in the 1870s, though. Before this, Sri Lanka was famous as a producer first of spices like cinnamon and then as a major grower of coffee. This came to a sudden end with a fungal coffee blight first recorded in 1869, a disease that by the end of the following decade had all but wiped out the Sri Lanka coffee industry. Plantations on the island turned to a range of alternative crops, but the only one that didn't suffer from similar blights and diseases was tea.
Working within geographic limitations on a relatively small island, Sri Lanka turned to mechanisation and innovation in the processing methods to increase tea production, and although it has never been the largest producer many excellent teas come from the distinct growing regions on the island.