Indian Tea plantation

Origins of Indian Tea

I wouldn't do that for all the tea in China is how the saying goes - but today the biggest producer of tea in the world is India not China. Although there are records in Sanskrit dating back to the 10th Century detailing the uses to which the Indians put tea, the modern story of tea in India, like so much else on the sub-continent is more recent and involves the British - and it particularly involves them in Assam and Darjeeling.

In 1833 the British East India Company lost its monopoly on the Chinese tea trade. Within a year Robert Bruce was investigating sightings of wild Camelia sinensis in Assam. The Tea Committee, formed in February of 1834, despatched George Gordon to China to study their methods. He returned to India with Chinese seedlings and a coterie of workers but found that the Chinese strain did not take to the Assamese climate. Shortly after, Charles Alexander Bruce, the brother of Robert, had far more success planting only indigenous strains at a nursery of his devising in Sadiya. By 1838 Charles Bruce had secured the approval of the Viceroy, Lord Auckland, and the first Assamese invoice of tea was sailing towards an English auction house. The robust black teas of Assam have proven themselves particularly suited to the global palate. Today Assam is the largest tea producing region in the world boasting over 600 gardens with an annual production exceeding 650 million tonnes.

Further to the West, in the land of the thunderbolt, for that's what Darjeeling means, the story is one of parallel, though not simultaneous development. In 1839 one Dr. Campbell, a civil surgeon from the Indian Medical Service, was transferred from Kathmandu to both head the sanitarium and be the superintendent for the idyllic hill station. As an experiment he tried planting a Chinese varietal of tea from Kumeon in the garden of his residence, Beechwood, 2000m above sea level. The exotic plants took hold and within a decade the first commercial tea gardens Aloobari, Tukvar and Steinthal were in in operation. Darjeeling's unique hybrid of Chinese and Indian tea plants produce an astringent and floral liquor, prized by connoisseurs for it's "muscatel" overtones. Darjeeling is often referred to as the champagne of teas.