INDIA AND TANTALISING TEA

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In India, tea and consumption of tea was first clearly documented in the Ramayana, but for next thousands of years, documentation of tea in India was lost in history — records re-emerged during the first century CE, with the stories of the Buddhist monks and their involvement with tea. It is said that tea is indigenous to east and north India, tea was cultivated – consumed here for thousands of years. In India, the tea plant was a wild plant, brewed by native inhabitants but there is no substantial documentation of the history of tea drinking in the Indian subcontinent for the pre-colonial period. Frederick R. Dannaway, in the essay “Tea As Soma”, argues that tea was perhaps better known as ‘soma’ (Sanskrit ‘som’ – in Vedic tradition, ‘soma’ is a ritual drink). The origin or precise history of tea is not mentioned, but it is believed that tea plant is native to East Asia and the Indian subcontinent. There are many myths found in Chinese mythology that tea originated in China, even the first verifiable records point towards China for its consumption.

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In early Seventeenth Century, the Dutch had played a significant dominating role in European tea trade (through The Dutch East India Company, officially the United East India Company) — Dutch borrowed the word ‘thee’ for ‘tea’, from Min Chinese, and introduced it to other European languages -in English tea is pronounced as ‘tea’, in French it is ‘thé’, in Spanish it is ‘té’, and in German it is pronounced as ‘tee’. The Portuguese adopted the Cantonese pronunciation ‘chàh’ from the Cantonese pronunciation (language originated from the city Canton of South-East China), and spread this pronunciation as ‘chá’, the pronunciation ‘chai’ came from Parisian language, which is also known as Farsi -a Western Iranian language.

During Seventeenth-century, tea-drinking become fashionable among the English — in order to curtail China’s monopoly over tea, in the year 1836 British introduced the small-tea-leaf to India. In the year 1827 Archibald Campbell -M.D. from Edinburg University joined the services of Bengal Medical Establishment of the East India Company — in the year 1840 he was appointed as first superintendent of Darjeeling in North-East India — Archibald Campbell took great interest in ethnology, economic botany and the study of the region — in the year 1841 he brought seeds of Chinese tea from Kumaun region and experimented with tea planting in Darjeeling. The Alubari tea garden was opened in the year 1856, and Darjeeling Tea began to be produced, later the British launched a tea industry in India — in Assam they offered land to any European who agreed to cultivate and export tea.

Thus, Commercial production of tea in India began after the arrival of the British East India Company, during its regime large tracts of land were converted for mass tea production. It was India Tea Board’s successful advertising campaign of 1950, that popularised tea-drinking in India. India, with its two tea varieties ‘Assam Tea’, and ‘Darjeeling Tea’, stands as second largest tea producer in the world. Assam Tea is an indigenous black tea — the leaves of Assam Tea are small in size, and reckoned by its bright colour, its briskness, and its malty flavour. Assam Tea, or blend containing Assam tea, are often sold as ‘breakfast’ teas.

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Tea is the ‘State Drink’ of Assam. On the other hand Darjeeling Tea leaves too are processed as Black-Tea, but few tea-estate process and sell its leaves suitable for green-tea, white-tea, and cologne-tea. Since the year 2004 the term Darjeeling Tea (word and logo) has been a ‘registered geographical indication’ referring to its production in certain estates within Darjeeling and Kalimpong. Darjeeling tea tastes best, specially when it is drunk without sugar or milk, and in porcelain tea-ware, claims the Tea Board. The other Indian tea varieties are: Nilgiri tea, Kangra tea, Munnar tea, Dooars-Terai tea, Sikkim Tea, and Masala Tea — in India, most of the teas are named or recognised by the region name where it is produced.

World’s many classic tea enterprises including British brands: Tetley and Typhoo is acquired by Indian tea companies. As stated in ASSOCHAM’s December 2011 report: India is the world’s largest consumer of tea, consuming almost 30% of global output. In 2017, global production of tea was around 6 million tonnes, to which India contributes 1.3 million tonnes — almost 21% of the world total.

Well, today after water, tea is the second most widely consumed drink in the world.


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