Toddy tapping in Sri Lanka – Island highs

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Toddy (රා) is a local alcoholic drink made by fermenting the sap of the coconut’s flower. It is produced in tropical Asian and African countries. In Sri Lanka, toddy is called thal ra (තල් රා), kithul ra (කිතුල් රා), or pol ra (පොල් රා) according to the plant used to make toddy. Toddy can be further distilled to make stronger alchoholic drinks such as arrack.

pouring toddy for fermentation
The fruits of toddy trapper’s hard work | Photo Credit : ceylonarrack

Toddy Tapping

toddy tapping in sri lanka
Toddy tappers have to traverse this death-defying tightrope every day | Photo Credit: Jaimee Ray @jamnrye

When you travel outside of Colombo, you’d notice men climbing up the coconut trees and plucking seemingly withered coconuts from trees, they are the toddy tappers, and their task is to climb the tree and get the flower from the coconut when the time is right. This is considered dangerous due to use of weather-worn ropes, slippery trunks of the palm trees and the wind.

The toddy tapper usually walks a tightrope (athura) tied high above between two adjacent coconut trees. He holds on to a one rope at shoulder level and walks on the other ever so carefully, because a single misstep would be fatal. This is a frequest sight in the early morning in western coastal areas in Sri Lanka such as Panadura, Wadduwa, Maggona, Payagala, Beruwala to Aluthgama.

tody trappers use a tight-rope to traverse between trees
Living dangerously! Tight-rope (athura) is used to easily shift between palm trees | Photo Credit – ceylonarrack
palm toddy tappers in sri lanka
Imagine the plight! Tight-ropes traversing is only for the veterans | Photo Credit: maaike.vanrijn

Toddy tapping profession fades fast because of the low income, lack of respect for the vocation (It is considered a low caste) and lack of skills required.

Did you know? Due to the inherent fatal nature of traversing the tightrope, There is a local saying that goes “like going on the athura” which used to convey the difficulty of a task that is being discussed.

The Tapper

Many people have this as their sole profession and have been climbing trees for years, even 15 to 20. They are all active beings who are built wiry after years of the heavy workout that climbing coconut trees must be. The younger generation tend to avoid the profession due to the dangers involved.

toddy tapping in sri lanka
Tappers start their work early in the morning | Photo Credit – ceylonarrack


toddy is whitish alcoholic beverage
Vinay Kudithipudi from Chicago, USA, Toddy fresh&bubbling, CC BY 2.0

Before it can be drunk, the flower must be beaten for 3 days, and then on the 4th day, the flower is cut, and the sap flows out freely. A container is usually left hanging below the flower overnight to collect all of its sap and is taken down the next morning.

cutting the toddy flower to collect sap
Tappers cut the flower to collect sap | Photo Credit – ceylonarrack

The tapper starts his daily routine early in the morning every day. So It’s better to make the journey early when you can observe them at work. And don’t forget to taste a glass of toddy while you’re at it.


A hammer-like a tool is used to beat the flower while the bowl collects the sap and all the men use a coil of rope to climb the tree.

Video by : Roar Media TV

 By Products of Toddy

The collected sap usually ferments quickly utilising the yeast in the atmosphere to produce toddy. This can further distilled to obtain Arrack. Arrack is a strong alcoholic beverage. Further fermenting toddy would yield Vinegar which is used as a cooking ingredient.

While you’re here check what other experiences are in store for you in Kalutara region 🙂

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Unique Shopping Experiences that are only available in Kalutara

Exciting Day trips from Kalutara , Sri Lanka

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