The first Arabica coffee plants introduced to Ceylon may have arrived from Yemen via India by Muslim pilgrims in the early 17th century. However, Sinhalese were unaware of the use of berries in the preparation of a beverage. They used only young curry leaves and flowers as offerings to their temples.
The first attempt at the systematic cultivation of coffee was undertaken by the Dutch in 1740. It was initiated by Governor Baron van Imhoff and his successor; Van Golenis and Lotn. However, it was limited to the lowlands and was relatively unsuccessful, with low levels of production. Production was also restricted by the Dutch East India Company because they did not want competition against the coffee produced on their Java plantations.
The first to successfully grow coffee on a commercial scale was George Bird, who established a coffee plantation in Singhapitiya. Edward Barnes became Governor of Ceylon in 1824 and established another plantation in Ganorua in 1825.
The only native to grow coffee on a commercial scale was Jeronis de Soysa, and about a quarter of the total production was from the small farms of the native farmers.