The story of tea is the most enchanting story in the history. It’s the story of challenges. It’s the story of fate. It’s the story of carefully calculated moves and unexpected chances which changed the world forever…
China had originally introduced the concept of sweetened tea to the world with its syrupy flavors which would easily sweep anyone off their feet.
But Dutch traders were the ones to introduce it to the European markets. Till then coffee had dominated the European beverage industry. However as soon as tea was introduced, tea enjoyed the status of nobility and was an immediate hit in Germany and England. Tea was elegant and exquisite. It was perceived as a luxury drink for elites and replaced prominent Coffee houses in Europe. After all, who could resist the lukewarm cup of tea? Demand of tea was higher than ever before because of its smooth texture and emollient flavor which could effortlessly sooth an aching soul.
In the trading sphere East India Company had somehow finally managed to gain a Monopoly over tea trade in China after its tireless efforts and sharp strategies which were insidious at times. Tea trade was highly remunerative beyond expectations of East India Company. Tea had already become a European love affair by this point, and its demand was increasing day by day, minute by minute. The world couldn’t let a day go by without a savoury sip of breezy tea.
But every great story has a dramatic twist. So does our tea. An unfortunate disaster was yet to strike. It was found that East India Company had been trading tea for opium in ancient China. Opium is drug like substance which would detoriate the health of Chinese population and make them addictive towards these materials. Therefore, in its response the Chinese empire, in charter of 1833, snatched away East India company’s monopoly over its tea after its 20 year trade agreement had ended.
Now East India company was in a precarious position. The demand was rising higher and higher in Europe while sources of supply were dipping dramatically. To widen the profits, horizons had to be widened too. East India Company knew that it had to find a new source of this mouth watering drink which had stolen European hearts. Hence East India company began extensively exploring the british colonies in hope to find a probable area for growing tea. East India Company was in a desparate need for a miracle. And miracle struck finally in 1823 when Robot Bruce noticed a wild tea plant in Assam as he happened to be the first merchant who had penetrated so deep in the exploration area of Assamese forests.
Without wasting any time he struck a deal with the local Singpho chief to supply him with those tea samples. However he died unexpectedly but not before before revealing this secret to his brother, Charles Bruce. Charles Bruce held a respectable position in British army. Now without wasting any time Charles Bruce managed to get this tea and send it to the Botanical gardens of Calcutta for further examination to verify its economic value.
Tea committee was appointed to examine the possibility of growing tea in British India. Initially this tea committee was led by James Pattle and Nathaniel Walliet. But the examination would take time and Europe was thirsty at hand. What was to be supplied to European markets? To solve this problem Chinese tea seeds and tea plantation workers were imported from China to work on the Indian fields. In a response to the attainablenes of tea growth, science commissions were formed to commence experimental tea gardens and choose favourable localities. One of their duties was to decide whether Chinese seeds or Assamese seeds were to be chosen for tea plantations in India.
Nurseries were raised in Calcutta, Dehradun and Assam. Chinese tea seeds were planted in Uttarakhand, Nilgiri and Saikhowa. These Chinese tea seeds were given a proper chance for growth and survival in Indian climate and were dealt with utmost care. However they could not survive the Indian weather as well as Indian soil. Failure of Chinese seeds was noted and immense plantation failures of Chinese seeds was reported by the examiners. On the other hand Assamese tea seeds gave a higher yield and passed with flying colours. They were infact given a superior rating. They were said to be at par with the prized exotic tea seeds. They ended up fetching high prices in European markets. All of a sudden Assam gained a new value in the eyes of British Empire on the promising prospect of tea plantation and tea growth in India.
British government established its first tea plantation in Jaipur in 1837. But this was just the beginning. The trend of Assamese tea was spreading throughout Europe. In fact 1861 to 1870 was the period of Tea Mania in Europe. Tea gained the status of the most important Cash crop by 1870s
As the government encouraged the ‘Wasteland Grant Rule’ to encourage private settlers to setup tea plantations in areas of North East India. The ‘Wasteland Grant Rule’ was however violated the local tribes and often led to unlawful encroachment of their areas. The locals were displaced and due to plantations many local trees were cut which resulted in deforestation. These so called ‘ wastelands’ were given away to private British capitalists without a single consultation from the local communities. Due to this massive acres of plots were acquired. This was done especially to facilitate tea plantation on massive scale by private settlers. The policies were made simply to facilitate their mission- Tea plantation.
There was one tea garden in 1850. In 1870, 295 tea gardens dominated the scene.