The Arrival Of Tea In India
It is widely believed that tea was brought to India centuries ago by silk caravans that used to travel from China to Europe. Even though the Camellia sinensis, the original tea leaves, are also native to India and were grown in the wild before their true worth was realized. Native Indians utilized these leaves in their diet sometimes, but mostly for their medicinal properties. They were used in cooking, in vegetable dishes, soups, etc. prior to their transformation into the famous 'chai'. Tea is a flavorful beverage often sweetened with sugar and milk and spices like cardamom and ginger.
Discovery of Tea In India
Tea made its formal introduction with the Indian population through their British colonizers, namely Scotsman Robert Bruce in 1823 in Assam. It is fair to say that it was because of the Britishers that tea found its way in India since they wanted overthrow China's monopoly on tea. Not only did they discover than Indian soil was extremely suitable for tea cultivation, but they even reaped immense profit from the same. The early sites for tea planting included the Assam Valley and the mountains of Darjeeling. Although Indian production of tea faced various setbacks for 14 years straight, it took a steep rise after that. India began competing with its Chinese counterpart and got recognition as second largest tea producer in India, the first being China.
The Native Tea Species
As per the story, a local merchant named Maniram Dewar, introduced Bruce to 'Singpho' people who were drinking something that was similar to tea. These people used to pluck the tender leaves of a wild plant and then dried them under the sun. Not just this, the leaves were also exposed to dew for three days. After that leaves were placed inside hollow bamboo tube and smoked till flavors developed. Bruce took a sample of the leaves and found that they were the same leaves as those from China.
It is significant to note that during this time continuous efforts were being made by the East India Company to ruin Chinese supremacy over global tea trade. Due to this conflict of interest, the Company started producing tea within British colonies including India. They came up with a Assamese variant of seeds and after years of dedication India became a full-fledged tea planter and the first British-led commercial Tea plantation got established in 1837 in Chabua, Upper Assam.
The departure of Britishers did not end the fully-established tea industry and it continued to flourish. Today, there are 700+ tea estates in Assam alone and more than 1,00,000 smaller gardens that produce around 570 million kilos of tea. This is how the Tea Industry in India has evolved over the years.