India is the second largest producer of tea in the world after China, including the famous Assam tea and Darjeeling tea. The documented evidence according to the history of tea drinking in India dates back to 750 BC. Tea in India is generally grown in the North Eastern regions and the Nilgiri Hills. Having evolved since those early days, tea drinking in India has now come a long way. Today this nation is proud to be one of the largest tea producers in the world. Buddhist monks in India have used tea for its medicinal value for thousands of years.
Commercialization of Tea
However, the credit for rediscovering tea and cultivating it at a commercial level goes to the British. Commercial tea cultivation in India was driven by British who consumed tea in enormous quantities, which they bought from China. By 1750, they were purchasing millions of pounds of tea every year from China. Even though the British managed to counterbalance it with opium trade to some extent, they found that their tea consumption was exorbitantly expensive and unsustainable.
This realisation led to a sustained effort by the British to understand tea production – and start tea cultivation in India.
In early 1774, Warren Hastings, then Governor-General of Bengal, sent a few select samples of tea seeds from China to his British emissary in Bhutan – George Bogle – for planting. Noted English botanist Sir John Banks, who was asked to make notes on tea in 1776, concluded that the British must undertake tea cultivation in India. Colonel Robert Kyd from the army regiment of the British East India Company also tried to cultivate Chinese seeds at the botanical garden that he founded (now named Indian Botanical Garden at Howrah in present-day Kolkata) in 1780.
In 1823, Scottish explorer Robert Bruce discovered a native tea plant that was growing in the Upper Brahmaputra Valley and being brewed by the local Singhpho tribe. Assamese nobleman Maniram Dutta Barbhandari Baruah (also known as Maniram Dewan) gave this vital information to Robert and his brother. Maniram went on to become the first Indian to undertake private tea cultivation in Assam. Although Robert Bruce died before he could get the plant officially classified, his brother Charles Alexander Bruce dispatched the tea samples to the Botanical Garden at Calcutta on Christmas Eve of 1834. On closer analysis, these were officially classified as a variation of the Chinese tea plant (Camellia sinensis var sinensis). This plant was named Camellia sinensis var Assamica (Masters) Kitamura.
HISTORY AND ORIGIN OF ASSAM TEA
Initially, the British felt that the Assam tea plant was inferior. But later they realised that the Chinese variety was unable to survive the hot weather conditions in Assam. Eventually, they decided to go ahead with the Assamese plant.
By 1838, the first consignment of 12 chests of Assam tea had reached London. Subsequently (in February 1839) the Assam Company – the first joint stock tea company – was formed in London. This was followed by the setting up of other companies like George Williamson and Jorehaut Tea Company.
HISTORY AND ORIGIN OF DARJEELING TEA
Darjeeling was transferred to the East India Company in 1835, and the Chinese tea variant was deemed suitable for the region in 1841. Dr A Campbell was the first person to plant Chinese seeds in Darjeeling that he had brought from Kumaon
Commercial tea plantations in Darjeeling started in the 1850s – and 113 plantations were set up by 1874, covering 18,888 acres and accounting for a production of 3.9 million pounds
SPREAD OF TEA PLANTATIONS
The positive results of tea cultivation in Assam and Darjeeling inspired many similar endeavours towards tea cultivations across the entire foothills of the Himalayas and other parts of India – such as Kumaon, Dehra Dun, Garhwal, Kangra Valley and Kulu in the north – and Nilgiri in the south.
By 1853, India’s tea exports had reached 183.4 tons – and soared to 6700 tons by 1870 and 35,274 tons by 1885.
Tea production in India has continued to prosper after 1947. The Marwari community played a key role in this regard, as many Marwaris took over tea plantations from British owners.
Tea drinking has evolved in different ways over the years in India and differs from region to region. First thought of as the drink of the Royals, tea has now become the favourite of the common man as India leads the world in tea drinking. From the humble roadside tea stalls and the railway platforms to the boardrooms of corporate India, tea is a staple.