About Indian Tea – ‘Chai’
Tea is a very popular drink all over India. It is enjoyed by one and all for its refreshing taste and aroma. India has several tea plantations all over, from the valleys in Assam and Darjeeling in the north east, to the south-western regions of the country on the Nilgiri hills.
Tea plants had been growing in the hills and valleys of Assam in the wild for several decades before the East India Company explored it. During the nineteenth century, East India Company had the monopoly of tea production and tea trading all over the world. Although tea was first produced in China, yet the British had the authority as they had colonies in various parts of the world, India being one of them. In his adventure book, famous traveler Jan Huyghen had mentioned that Indians use the tea leaves as a vegetable and grow it to brew. However, no one paid attention to his accounts and the tea plantations in India remained un-noticed.
Joseph Banks, a renowned British botanist had suggested that India had suitable climate for tea growing and he spoke of the idea of bringing tea bushes from China to India to grow. Charles Bruce, an employee of the East India Company later realized this and he brought several tea bushes and seeds from Assam and gave them for testing in the Botanical Gardens in Calcutta.
The East India Company then had full monopoly in tea trading and it had more than satisfactory revenues by trading Chinese tea. Therefore, little heed was paid to Charles Brooks finding. However, in the middle of the nineteenth century, when the East India Company lost its monopoly on tea trade, it had to bring its attention to the tea plantations in colonies under them, primarily India. Charles Bruce was then sent to Assam, as the head to supervise tea growth in India.
Under pressure from the British government, he imported tea bushes from China to India to be grown there. The tea seeds were first grown in the Botanical Gardens in Calcutta, before they could be taken to Assam to be planted there. Meanwhile, Charles Bruce with the help of several tea experts and laborers from India began to set up tea cultivation lands in Assam. Assam was full of jungles being constantly infested by wild animals and tribes. Besides the climatic conditions in Assam was acrimonious for these people to set up tea plantations.
However, with constant perseverance they eventually succeeded in setting tea plantations. These plantations had both the Chinese variety as well as the indigenous Assamese variety. The Chinese tea failed to grow and sustain in harsh climatic conditions and their Indian counterparts survived. This Indian variety was exported to Britain and was accepted well in the King’s court as well as the people. Thus, this gave rise to the popular brand, the India tea, known as “chai”.
After the tea plantations became a success in the Brahmaputra valley in Assam, tea growth gradually started to spread. It made its way to the foothills of the Himalayas in Darjeeling in north Bengal, and other valleys such as Dooars, Terai etc.
After exploring the north east, tea traveled to the southern region where the Nilgiri hills proved to be a very good place for tea cultivation.
The East India Company first exported tea from India commercially in 1853. Since then, the tea market in India has been ever flourishing and ever growing.