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Tea History in India

THE BRITISH ESTABLISHED AN INDUSTRY IN INDIA THAT, TO THIS DAY, RESPONDS TO A STRONG INTERNATIONAL DEMAND FOR TEA WHILE MAINTAINING EXCEPTIONAL QUALITY STANDARDS IN SOME OF ITS GROWING REGIONS. HOWEVER, THE DISCOVERY OF WILD TEA TREES IN THE JUNGLES OF ASSAM INDICATES THAT INDIA IS ONE OF THE BIRTHPLACES OF THE TEA TREE.

The true beginning of the history of tea cultivation in India can be attributed in part to Major Robert Bruce. In 1823, as an employee of the East India Company, he discovered wild tea trees growing in the state of Assam, close to the border with Burma (Myanmar). Major Bruce had noticed certain tribes chewing the leaves of tall trees that were identified as wild tea trees, but to his knowledge there were not enough of these to produce a significant harvest, nor were there any plantations. However, at that time the British were looking for ways to get around supply problems related to their tea imports, including the Japanese market being closed to the outside world, the long ship-ping route between China and England (which often resulted in tea spoiling while still aboard the ships) and the exorbitant prices demanded by the Chinese, who enjoyed a monopoly on the trade. And so, in response to their need to find new tea-growing regions, the British took a serious interest in Robert Bruce's discovery.

Even before Bruce's discovery, several attempts had been made to grow tea trees in India. As early as the beginning of the 19th century; C.J. Gordon had brought back approximately 80,000 Camellia sinensis var. sinensis seeds from China, which he introduced in. Darjeeling, Kumaon, Assam and southern India, long before the tea tree discovered in Assam was recognized as a variety of Camellia sinensis. However, this first attempt to grow tea failed due to a lack of experience.

Establishing and developing a new tea supply chain was, of course, a challenge fraught with many difficulties, but - motivated by the problems arising-from trade with China and the high global demand for tea - the British plunged into the venture, in 1834, Charles Alexander Bruce succeeded in creating India's first plantation, carrying on the project started by his brother, who had died in the intervening years. Some four years later he made his first delivery to England - 12 cases of tea. Received with much curiosity, this first shipment was sold at auction for a good price, although it did not quite live up to British expectations. It was not easy, after just a few years, to compete with the Chinese, given their level of expertise.

The British decided to send spies to China to try to discover the secrets of growing tea. Botanist Robert Fortune, disguised as a tea merchant, managed to gain access to the gardens and pick up enough dues to understand the mysterious process that produced China's famous black tea and the important phenomenon involved, oxidation. In 1848, he returned with 20,000 plants, essential information regarding the processing of the leaves and a Chinese labor force of about 80 workers, who were to prove invaluable to the creation of new plantations. It was at this point that the cultivation of tea in India really got underway.

Next, a huge deforestation program in the region of Assam cleaned the way for vast gardens. Moreover; the British applied the experience they had acquired during the agricultural revolution in Europe in the 17th century to the management of the plantations, which led to industrial methods of production being adopted more quickly in India. Consequently, by the early 1860s, Indian production was sufficient to meet British needs. Regions that were suitable for better-quality harvests were also established in the mountains of Darjeeling and Nilgiri,

Specializing in the production of black teas, the British were able to launch an industry that would explode over the following decades, increasing from a few hundred tons in the early 1860s to more than 198,400 tons (180,000 t) in 1914. The invention of crush, tear, curl (CTC) processing, which facilitates mechanical handling of the leaves, paved the way for high-volume production.

On August 15, 1947, the former British colony of India was partitioned into two independent nations. As a result, the tea-growing gardens and processing plants that had belonged to the English gradually came under Indian control. In 1951, the Indian government signed the Plantation Act in law, ensuring better working conditions for plantation workers. Today, the active involvement of the Indian tea industry in the field of research makes it a world leader both in terms of the quality of its teas and the quantity of its output.

THE END OF THE CHINESE MONOPOLY:THE OPIUM WARS.

Queen Elizabeth I founded the East India Company (EIC) in 1600, hoping to dominate trade with Asia. The company was supposed to give the British control over the tea trade with China. When the EIC managed to establish its first trading post in Canton in 1684, tea became the main export, mostly in response to the huge demands of the English market, as tea had become extremely popular in England. However, the Chinese were self-sufficient and wary of foreign trade, so they demanded payment in cash, rather than in exchange for goods. This did not suit the British, as they were rich in goods, produced mainly in their Indian colonies, but not in money.

To encourage the Chinese to export their tea, the British began to exchange it for opium. This trade not only destabilized the Chinese market, it made the population dependent on foreign trade (since they could only obtain opium through foreign trade). This trade proved to be an absolute disaster for China. As early as 1729, the Chinese instigated various prohibitionist measures to fight against the opium trade. In 1796, Emperor Jia Qing established the death penalty for opium trafficking. In spite of these efforts, the drug trade continued to spread like wildfire. It is said that by 1830, the British had exported more than 1,650 tons (1,5001) of opium to China.

In 1839, the Chinese government managed to fight back by confiscating and burning stocks of opium. Next, all ports involved in the opium trade were closed, including the port of Canton. In reaction to these measures, the British initiated a series of military interventions historically referred to as the first Opium War (1840 -1842). This war destroyed Chinese defenses and, in effect, terminated their trade monopoly. The conflict was resolved by the Treaty of Nanjing, which forced the Chinese to restart the opium trade with Britain. The Chinese also had to turn over the island of Hong Kong to the British and give them access to five major ports, including Fuzhou, Canton and Shanghai. When the Chinese failed to respect the terms of the treaty the British launched the second Opium War (1856-1860), hoping to obtain further concessions from them. This second war was even more disastrous for the Chinese. They were then obliged to sign the Treaty of Tianjin, which greatly favored the British.