Preview: The first reference for tea ever made in Indian history was in the Ramayana in the 3rd century B.C. Tea was mentioned for its medicinal values, which is how we know it today. But it was only in the early 19th Century when the British set up tea plantations in the North East regions of India that the popularity for the beverage grew.
The Camellia Sinensis plant was known to grow in the wild and used by the native people in the form of soup or mixed with vegetables, not knowing its real worth.
In 1788 reports were submitted that certain parts of North East India, like Assam, was ideal for growing tea. The British East India Company started work on it. However in the year 1823, when a trader named Robert Bruce spotted a tea plant growing in the wild. The seeds ad specimens were sent to Calcutta for testing before the same could be confirmed. In 1833, 80,000 seeds were imported form China to start the production of tea in Assam. But the Chinese varieties could not withstand the harsh Assam heat. The native plants grew despite harsh and hostile weather conditions, wild animals and the native people. This plant was called Assamica.
The first shipment is Indian Assam tea was shipped off to England in the year 1858. The buyers who tasted the tea described its character as ‘excellent’. The Assam Tea Company that used to grow the tea in Assam started trying other regions such as Darjeeling and Nilgiri for cultivating tea. The Chinese varieties of tea that did not thrive in Assam did well in both Darjeeling and Nilgiri.
The tea industry continued to grow and prosper even after the British left India. From 183 tons of tea in 1853 to 35,274 tons of tea in 1885 – tea production has been growing. Today India is one the largest producers of tea with over 13,000 tea gardens adding to the total production of 1250.49 million kgs in 2016-17.