Monday, 15 December 2014

British India and tea industry 1800s and 1900s

Darjeeling tea-women cleaning tea,1866,
In order to  break the Chinese monopoly on tea, the British, using Chinese seeds, plus Chinese planting and cultivating techniques, kick-started  a tea industry by offering land 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 trade.
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 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 British on their trips through the hilly place 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.

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 viable, 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.
Assam-tea processing-from seed to final drying 1850s, India.en
Lukwah Assam tea plantation,India. www.
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.Tea-break at work gave them a break 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.  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) in the western ghat. ''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 Nilagiri hills in the 1800s. Tea estates were operated mainly by the British Sahibs (durai(s) in local parlance) during the colonial period.