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Indian Tea Origins

Indian Tea Origins

According to historical records, tea drinking reached its peak in India during 750 B.C. In the 16th century the Indian people were found to be using tea leaves in a vegetable dish with garlic and oil, but the credit for rediscovering tea and cultivating it in India were the British.

The British were the main driving force behind tea cultivation in India, due to them consuming huge quantities of tea which they were buying from India. They were purchasing millions of pounds of tea every year from China by 1750. The main driving force for the British needing to find another source for their consumption was that their habit was exorbitantly expensive and unsustainable. This issue led to the British learning the process of tea cultivation and production in India.

1774 - 1834

In the early part of 1774, the Governor General of Bengal, Warren Hastings, sent a few tea seed samples for planting from China to his British counterpart, Bhutan George Bogle.

In the year 1776, famed English botanist Sir John Banks, was asked to make notes on tea and was the first to suggest that the British must take on the trade of tea cultivation in India.

Another gentleman by the name of Colonel Robert Kyd from the army regiment of the British East India Company, in the year 1780 also tried to plant tea seeds from China in the botanical garden he found, now the Indian Botanical garden at Howrah in present day Kolkata.

In the year 1823, the Scottish explorer Robert Bruce discovered a native tea plant on his expedition to the Upper Brahmaputra Valley. The local Singhpho tribe was brewing the plant for consumption. A noble of the Assamese named Maniram Dutta Barbhandari Baruah, educated Robert and his brother on how to properly cultivate and brew this native tea. Maniram would go on to be the first native Indian to begin the practice of private tea cultivation in Assam.

Due to the death of Robert Bruce, his brother Charles Alexander Bruce was the one to have the tea officially classified when he sent a sample of the tea to the Botanical Garden of Calcutta on December 24th, 1834. Once properly analysed it was found to come from a strand of a Chinese tea plant, the Camellia sinensis var sinensis. They would then go on to name it Camellia sinensis var Assamica (Masters) Kitamura.

The Assam Company

The British originally felt the Assam tea plant was a lesser plant. They were soon to find out that the Chinese variety could not withstand the hot weather in the region of Assam. Which led them to eventually go with the Assamese plant variety. The first twelve chests of Assam cultivated tea reached London in 1838 and by February 1839, the first joint stock tea company was formed in London, The Assam Company. With the formation of The Assam Company others soon came into play, such as the George Williamson and the Jorehaut Tea Company.

The East India Company

The East India Company in 1835, received Darjeeling tea and the Chinese tea variety began being planted in the area in 1841. The first seed of Darjeeling was brought from Kumaon by a Dr. A. Campbell. In the 1850s commercial tea plantations started to pop-up in Darjeeling and by the year 1874, 113 plantations were set up. These plantations covered 18,888 acres and produced 3.9 million pounds of tea.

Assam and Darjeeling

With the success of tea cultivation in Assam and Darjeeling, tea cultivation in the Himalayas and other regions of India - such as Kumaon, Garhwal, Kangra Valley, DehraDun, Nilgiri in the south and Kulu in the north blossomed. In the regions of Northern India by 1863, 78 plantations had been set up in the areas of Kumaon, DehraDun, Garwhal, Kangra Valley and Kulu. In 1832, Dr. Christie was the first to bring up the idea of a possible tea plantation in Nilgiri.

In the year 1853, India was exporting 183.4 tons of tea yearly. By 1870, 6,700 tons and by 1885, 35,274 tons.

By the year 1947, the Marwari community took over the prospering tea plantations from the British owners. Since 1947, India’s tea production has increased by more than 250% and the areas used for tea plantations increased by 40%. According to the numbers from December 2013, India has around 563,980 hectares of land used for tea cultivation, with its largest tea cultivation being in the regions of:

  • Assam 304,400 hectares

  • West Bengal 140,440 hectares

  • Tamil Nadu 69,620 hectares

  • Kerala 35,010 hectares

Based on these numbers, India’s total tea production was around 1,197.18 million kg in the years of 2014 and 2015. From these numbers Northern India had the largest production coming in at 955.82 kg, accounting for 79.8 percent and Southern India produced 241.36 million kg, accounting for 20.2 percent.

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