The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce is probably the only Chamber in the world Which conducts produce auctions in its own building, under its own bye-laws and conditions of sale. It has thereby made a notable contribution to international Commodity marketing.

Agricultural produce, with its infinite variety, is difficult to sell by description, And lends itself to disposal by auction. As our agriculture developed, the sale of tea, rubber and spices came to be handled through the auction system, and the trade and government both turned to the Chamber to organise the auctions.

The pattern has usually been that when a trade reached an appreciable Volume, representatives of the trade requested the Chamber to provide the Infrastructure for periodical auctions. Occasionally the government would ask the Chamber for advice on the advisability of auctioning a particular product.




The sound of the gavel periodically striking the block, interspersed by its handler ‘speaking in tongues’, or so it seems, greets one on entering the imposing auditorium – one of three in which the legendary Colombo Tea Auction is conducted concurrently on two consecutive days each week. Transactions, each amounting to many thousands of rupees, are recorded with each drop of the hammer. The jargon used in the process makes no sense to an ‘outsider’, who, in any event, cannot discern one sale from another, as they flow contiguously, every five minute. The atmosphere is electrifying, while the expectancy is palpable, as each bidder tries to out-do his competitors in operating on over 12,000 different tea invoices every week. Deep in the well of the auditorium, the rostrum, from which the steward lords over the proceedings, faces tiered seating in a semicircular format and provides him with unimpaired eye contact with every Buyer. Being an ‘outcry’ auction, some Buyers voice their bids, whilst others nod their heads, wink an eye or raise an eyebrow, a hand or a finger to signify their bidding. This, then, is the epicenter of the Tea Industry, replete with intense excitement and stimuli, where ‘Buyer meets Seller’ and the Selling Broker acts as an impartial intermediary.



The iconic Colombo Tea Auction, in its formal configuration, and the Colombo Tea Traders Association, the Apex Body of the country’s tea industry, from their respective inceptions, have been virtually synonymous. They both came into existence around the same time, towards the end of the nineteenth century, and have ever since developed in close association with each other.


The commercial cultivation of tea has been discerned to have commenced in 1867, followed shortly thereafter by the devastating coffee blight. This fortuitously enabled tea to replace coffee, which, till then, was the main cash crop of the Island. By 1883, the first tea auction, private in nature, took place in the offices of Somerville & Company, a firm of Produce Brokers, on July 30. It comprised a mere five invoices of tea, of which almost all remained unsold on the occasion, in the absence of adequate bids. 

By the 1890s, the Tea Industry had acquired a position of significance in the commercial sector and production volumes had grown to an extent that necessitated formal regulation in disposal. The Producers requested the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, established in 1839, which was mainly a commodity orientated organization then, to assist in this initiative. On June 18, 1894, an Association, under the title, “The Colombo Tea Traders’ Association”, materialized, with the primary objective of overlooking the interests of the Tea Trade.

For more information

Visit -

Made a Notable Contribution to International Commodity Marketing