One of the world's largest producers of tea, with more than 13,000 gardens.
A Dutch explorer who sailed round the Cape of Good Hope to Goa on India's west coast in the late sixteenth century, mentioned the tea-drinking customs of the Indian people. In this blog, Voyages and Travels of jan Huyghen van Linschoten, published in 1598, he tells how the leaves of the Assam tree were used by the Indians both as a vegetable, eaten with garlic and oil, and as a drink.
In 1784, the British botanist Sir Joseph Banks, declared that the Indian climate was favorable to tea cultivation, but did not know that the plant already grew there, in 1823, Robert Bruce, a Scottish mercenary, came across the native Indians drinking tea made with a different variety of the plant than the one already known in China. He and his brother Charles, who worked for the British East India Company, arranged for some of the indigenous plants to be cultivated in the botanical gardens of Calcutta. Despite a determination on the part of the East India Company that only Chinese plants were good enough for commercial production, the Bruce brothers managed, in 1835, to convince them that the Camellia assamica would thrive where the Camellia sinensis would not. Plantations were established, and the first consignment of eight chests of Assam teas arrived in London in 1838. However the new operation did not become profitable until 1852. Claims were made that the new plantations would create opportunities for work and that the local Indians would therefore benefit but in fact the early estates used mainly imported Chinese labor. The Assam Tea Company was established in 1840 and soon expanded its activities into other north Indian areas. Production steadily increased and exports nose from 183.4 tons in 1853 to 6.700 tons in 1870. In 1885, production was 35,274 tons (of which 34,171.7 tons were exported) and by 1947, when India won its independence from Britain, production had reached 281,089.6 tons.
Today. India is one of the world's largest producers of tea. With more than 13,000 gardens and a total workforce of more than two million people, India produces approximately 30 percent of the world's black teas and 65 percent of CTC teas. The change from orthodox to CTC manufacture in many of the Indian factories was the result of a growing British and Irish market and the developing preference, from the 1950s onward for a quick-brewing strong tea bag tea.
Indian gardens follow different methods of production depending on the markets they are catering for. Some concentrate on the CTC production of fanning and dust for the export market. Some make mainly CTC granular broken grades and fannings for the domestic market, and others manufacture orthodox tippy whole leaf grades for the specialty market.
In 1993, 587,532.4 tons of CTC teas were produced (compared to 544,542.2 tons in 1992) - almost 83 percent of production - and the manufacture of orthodox teas has reduced slightly in recent years. India's home market has been steadily growing over the past 45 years. In 1951, domestic demand was for only 80,468.8 tons (approximately 30 percent of production). By 1991 . that had risen to 573,202.4 tons (approximately 75 percent of production). But the Indian planters have always managed to meet their export commitments and the Tea Board of India, with all its affiliated research bodies in all the major tea-growing areas of north and south India, follow a carefully formulated long-term strategy for increased production and productivity.
One aspect of this program has been established in order to protect the reputation of India's three main specialty teas - Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri. As the worldwide reputation for these teas has grown over the years, and international demand has increased, a situation arose whereby traders were offering tea misleadingly labeled as Pure Darjeeling, Pure Assam, and Pure Nilgiri, but which were, in fact, mixed with teas from other areas .Therefore, it became necessary to ensure the quality of these teas worldwide. The Tea Board of India has now introduced three distinctive logos as a guarantee that packets contain 100 percent Darjeeling, Assam,or Nilgiri and that those teas have been bought from companies that are checked and certified by the Tea Board, The Darjeeling logo shows the profile of a female Indian plucker holding a tea shoot of two leaves and a bud, the Assam logo bears the image of the one-horned rhino that lives in Assam's Brahmaputra Valley; and the Nilgiri logo depicts the undulating hills of the Blue Mountains (Nilgiris) of Southern India .These symbols help the consumer to identify the genuine quality of India's three specialty teas.
The pattern of India's exports has changed markedly since 1947. In that year. the major buyer was the U.K. (140,214.1 tons - 66.3 percent of exports) and very small amounts were purchased by areas such as Eastern Europe and the various Arab states. Today, India's major customers are in Iran, Poland, Egypt, and the former U.S.S.R., while Britain's purchases have dropped to 15.7 percent of total exports. Japan is a newcomer; and shows a preference for Darjeelings, tippy orthodox teas, and Nilgiris.
Although India produces mostly black teas, a small amount of green tea is produced, mainly for the Afghanistan market in the Kangra Valley, north of Delhi. India also has several organic plantations,notably Mullootor and Makaibari in Darjeeling, which operate a system of chemical-free agriculture and environmental conservation.