British India and first tea industry - 1800s and 1900s

Darjeeling tea-women cleaning tea,1866,
The British consumed tea in enormous quantities, which they bought from China. By 1750, they were importing millions of pounds of tea every year from China and had to pay for it in silver. The consistent import of large quantity of tea from China had  a run on Britain's silver reserve. In addition,  they found that their tea consumption was exorbitantly expensive and unsustainable. Later the British managed to counterbalance the loss of silver  to some extent with  export of opium from India to China.

In order to  break the Chinese monopoly in tea, the British, using Chinese seeds, plus Chinese planting and cultivating techniques, kick-started  the  tea industry by offering lands in Assam to any European who agreed to cultivate tea for export. Thus the British introduced tea into India for the first time. During this time many British people moved over to India to settle down here to get involved in  tea trade, etc.

In ancient India the consumption of tea was very much there as mentioned in the Ramayana, and clear records point out use of tea in the first century  AD by the Buddhists  monks. For more than thousand years tea - mainly indigenous to eastern and northern regions of India - was cultivated and consumed  by tribes in the hilly areas. They mainly drank black  decoction  without adding milk.  The Singpho and the Khamti tribes of Assam, where the Camellia Sinensis plant (native to India) grew, have been consuming tea since the 12th century. The former tribes also live in Arunachal Pradesh, and  in Megalhaya where there are a small number of Christians. Many also follow Buddhism. The latter tribes belonging to Tai ethnic group  live in Arunachal Predesh, Assam and in Myanmar  The British, on their trips through the hilly places, saw the local tribes drinking a sort of black drink which was a type of tea brewed from local plants  and since it tasted like tea they took keen interest to develop it. Large scale cultivation and  commercial production began only with the arrival of British company.
Teas-producin areas,
Darjeeling tea
Above image: Darjeeling(West Bengal) tea estate women tea pickers. Women form the majority of the tea pluckers..............

Large-scale production of tea - a tea variety traditionally brewed by the Singpho people began  in Assam, India in the early 1820s. In 1826, the British East India Company  signed a treaty (Yandaboo treaty) with the Ahom kings and took over the region mainly to develop tea plantations after studying the suitability  of  climate, altitude, nature of soil, transportation facilities, etc. Having found that  starting tea company was  commercially viable and economically profitable, the British established the ''first English tea garden'' at Chabua in 1837 in Upper Assam and  in 1840 began the commercial production of tea in this region. The indigenous tea -  Camellia Sinensis  was not taken up for production  in the early days and the early tea cultivation began with 42,000 seedlings germinated from a consignment of 80,000 seeds procured from China – 2000 were planted in the hill districts of South India, and 20,000 each in the hill districts in Kumaon in the foot hills of the Himalayas in North India. Dr. A Campbell was the first person to plant Chinese seeds in Darjeeling that he had brought from Kumaon, but only in 1850 commercial production of tea began in Darjeeling. As many as 113 plantations  came  up by 1874, covering 18,888 acres and accounting for a production of 3.9 million pounds per year.  Darjeeling tea is renowned globally for its distinctive Muscatel flavor, which cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world. Assam tea is globally reputed for its full bodied, deep-amber liquor with a brisk, strong and malty taste.
Assam-tea processing-from seed to final drying 1850s, India.en
Lukwah Assam tea plantation,
The Assam Tea company introduced ''indentured  labor'' system  in this region and  with the local inhabitants as workers.  This is a sort of cheap labor  and was was mainly used to achieve higher profits. In the 1850s, as the people started drinking it regularly, the tea industry rapidly expanded, consuming vast tracts of land for tea plantations. Towards end  of the century, Assam became the leading tea producing region in the world. Drinking tea a few times a day became part  of many people across India.Tea-break at work gave them respite from monotonous work; it was sort of recharging their energy level in the body.

To day India is listed as the world's leading producer of tea - 715,000 tons; the teas of Assam, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), and Darjeeling are world famous. The last one is very expensive and there has been a high demand for it.  Nearly two thirds of  India's  total production is consumed locally based on per capita consumption of half a cup a day. No doubt the British followed several methods and accelerated the growth towards the end of 1900s.
East India co.label.
In the 1920s the successful advertising campaign by the Tea Board and several large-scale  promotion drives by the Government, using railways stations as a base made the tea popular as a recreational drink.
In southern India there are numerous tea estates in Tamil Nadu,  Karnataka and Kerala.  Some of the tea plantations near Munnar in Iddukki  district of Kerala are at higher altitude and the highest one is at Kolukkumalai (elevation 8,000 feet; Tamil Nadu state) in the western ghat. It is known fact that world's highest tea plantations are here  and the first  vintage tea factory founded by the British is still functional and  produces superior quality tea following the traditional, old orthodox processes. ''The Nilgris Tea'' produced in the Nilagiri district of Tamil  Nadu is quite famous and there are many tea plantations near the famous hill station Ooty. Stanes and his  British family were pioneers in the development of tea plantations on the Nilgiris hills in the 1800s. Tea estates were operated mainly by the British Sahibs (durai(s) in local parlance) during the colonial period.Dr. Christie was the first to explore the potential of tea plantations in the Nilgiri in 1832. Dr. Christie was a surgeon on special duty in the Nilgiris, and he noticed near Coonoor  camellia shrubs which closely resembled the tea bush, some thought this variety closely resembled camellia assamica, the tea found in Assam, while others felt that the camellia was not a native plant of the Nilgiris. Most of the planters felt that many of the plants endemic to the Nilgiris were wiped out with the introduction of so many exotic varieties. Dr Christie later ordered for tea seeds from China to try them here. After the unexpected death of Christie,  other Englishmen successfully experimented the plants and their suitability to the terrain here. Thus began the growth and development of Nilgiris tea in south India. Nilgiris tea has its own unique character - it leaves a creamy taste in the mouth with notes of dusk flowers, this being due to high altitude and healthy environment.

India is the world's  second largest producer of tea and also the largest consumer of tea.  Every nook and corner of  rural India including hamlets one will find a few ''Chai'' shops to serve the villagers.