Since the introduction of tea in Sri Lanka in 1886, tea is the most widely drunk beverage. Sri Lankans drink about 3 cups of tea a day with the working classes preferring it strong with milk and sugar. While the middle and upper classes enjoy it with a little bit of milk only. Overall they tend to drink tea like Westerners; taking after the British. Chai [Marsala] as in what we tend to call tea with spices, hails from India.
When you visit Sri Lanka, everywhere you go, you will find teahouses in the same way you will find a pub-hotel in every Aussie town. Every tea plantation runs a teahouse near or on their estate which you can visit. And as expected they will be selling their tea. Some teahouses are more like roadside rest stops for travelers and others are fine restaurants that may offer lodgings.
In the bigger towns, you will find tea in any eatery. And Sri Lankan tea, especially when its sweetened, goes perfectly with Sri Lankan food which is a blend of Indian curry, Thai/Malaysian spices with a touch of Portugese flavours. Imagine drinking a cup of tea with a chili prawn and cheese pie? The two go together.
On the more specific aspects of Sri Lankan tea customs, whenever you visit a Sri Lankan home you will be entreated to a freshly brewed cup of tea. It is impolite to refuse and the host will offer it the way they drink it in their house. It is a given that sometimes you will get a cuppa sweet and at other times not sweet. Thankfully Sri Lankans still use traditional tea cups not mugs, so if on your itinenary you are visiting lots of places make sure you have room to drink a cup of tea at every place you visit. Try to finish the cup but you do not have to refill.
While tea permeates everything in Sri Lanka, it is at the moment uses as a time to relax and chat with people. Even if you are drinking alone, there is a sense to naturally slow down and unwind. Even in a big city like Columbo, time moves slower than in a city like Melbourne or Sydney – To rush is to be stressed and out of personal control. Here they have no tea ceremonies. Life is busy enough. What prevails is more of a mental philosophy, possibly influenced by Buddhism, of how to enjoy tea: Bestilled Calmness.