Thursday, 26 September 2019

Origin of refreshing Nilgiri tea of South India

Nilgiris tea plantation. S. India tourmyindia.com/
.Nilgiris tea plantation. S. India agefotostock.com

It was in and around  Coonoor in the Nilgiris hills, Tamil Nadu the first tea plantations in south India came up in the late 1800s. Next to Ooty,  Coonoor  is an important hill station in Nilgiris  mountains on the Western Ghat   and the people living in the plains  visit this cool place in the summer holidays to take a break from the soaring hot summer heat.  The story of  Nilgiri tea  is not knew, but the excitement and  keen interest never get lost because we Indians consume lots of tea and correspondingly, we are the second largest tea producer in the world only next to China. Particularly, the college students in the grip of final examinations fever, take refuge in refreshing, invigorating  hot cup of tea to burn the mid-night candle to clear the exams. Nilgiri teas are grown in the Blue Mountains up to an altitude of about 8000 feet (msl), and the hills offer  a breath-taking vista of greenery and rolling hills where the haze, mists and clouds  change the scenery in a jiff like a kaleidoscope that changes the geometric color patterns inside if given a good shake. Surely, one of the most beautiful  and serene regions in the world with good air-quality.  Very first tea plantations appeared in Upper Assam and West Bengal, NE India and the credit goes to the adventurous  British who introduced tea in India for the first time. Their main intention was to put an end to China's dominance in world tea industry and to narrow down Britain's  balance of trade with the Chinese who demanded payment  in silver. As Britain happened to be a vast consumer of tea then, it  put a heavy strain on the country's  silver reserve. Tea was first brought to Nilgiri in 1835 and has been commercially grown there since the 1850’s. Therefore, many of the established tea estates and structures have old British colonial look and charm. The Coonoor Club in Coonoor, whose members are planters,  has been  around since 1885.
Nilgiri hills tea plantation, S. India.
Tea in the royal house,UK rct.uk/collection/themes/trails/tea-in-
 Above image: Though tea-drinking had been in China and other parts of the world for centuries, it did  not become fashionable in Britain until the 7th century. Since then, members of the royal court had  enjoyed tea in a variety of formal and informal settings and had acquired ornate equipment for its consumption and display
Tea first appeared in Britain in the 1650s, when it was served as a novelty in the coffee houses of London. The drink became fashionable after the marriage of Charles II (1630–1685) to Catherine of Braganza (1638–1705) in 1662. The king's new wife introduced the royal court to the tea-drinking habits of her native Portugal.  In response to the new demand,  the East India Company began to import tea into Britain, placing its first order in 1664. ........................


Thomas Heming, Tea kettle, 1761-rct.uk/collection/themes/trails/tea-in


 “I must drink lots of tea or I cannot work. Tea unleashes the potential which slumbers in the depth of my soul.” -Leo Tolstoy

The discovery of Nilgiris hills and places that have similar British weather condition was a blessing in disguise. The Collector of Coimbatore district  John Sullivan was the first British official to stand atop the hills. Earlier, this place was visited by European missionaries. An Italian preacher, one Giacomo Finicio  visited this place in 1603. He mentioned about mountains and cold weather conditions at higher reaches. Once this place was under the control of Mysore Maharajah and later under Tipu Sultan. After his defeat in 1799  at Srirangapatna, the English company - EIC  took control over Nilgiris. In 1819, John Sullivan and his paraphernalia, climbed the hills and reached Kotagiri. Enchanted by the cool and congenial weather and the quiet  surroundings, later he had a house built and settled  there. Besides, he had close contact with the various tribes living there.The discovery of  suitable and cool places on the hills reached far and wide after a long gap of about 7 or 8 years more and more British  moved uphill to settle down there. Subsequently, the British had the rights to buy lands here and not Indians. 
As far as Nilgiris hills are concerned, the credit of introducing tea plants  goes to (according to Francis, ICS' records) one  Dr. Christie, an Assistant Surgeon from Madras.  In 1833, Dr. Christie, while on special duty in the Nilgiris, conducting meteorological and geological work near Coonoor,  accidentally noticed camellia shrubs which were similar to  those tea plants growing in Assam and other places. Having found out the tea plants native to this place, near Coonoor disappeared for unknown reasons replaced by other varieties, he made up his mind to run some experiments with tea plants to be brought from China. But, unfortunately, his unexpected death made  other British planters  try the tea plant on the hills.
India tea. suntips.
After two years, Lord William Bentinck, Governor General of India, who  evinced keen interest in tea industry in India set up  the Tea Commission and sent them to China to bring back tea seeds and experts in tea plantation. It was in the Ketti valley  which lies between the towns of Ooty, the British already  began the tea production. To cut down tea-smuggling by the Dutch East India Co and to  reduce dependence on China  at Coonoor  seeds from China were planted on an experimental basis; not satisfied with the results, the experimental farm was closed down  in 1836.

Later the land was taken on lease by  Le Marquis de Saint- Simon, the Governor General of French colonies in India. The French botanist Georges Guerrard-Samuel Perrottet, who was with Saint-Simon found many  tea plants, stunted, a few inches high but alive. This gave him encouragement and he  replanted the seedlings and nurtured them with patience. After two years, the plants had grown to almost four feet in height. Further, he found them to be  healthy with flowers, seeds and young leaves. His publication of  the results  in the Asiatic Journal, Calcutta  drew the attention many planter's  attention. A planter named Henry Mann who had some success in  making fairly good tea from the Nilgiri plants, tried his luck in the Coonoor plantation. This one later became  Coonoor Tea Estate, the oldest one here. In 1856, a favorable review  of  Nilgiri  tea  by the London auction  house made him apply for the grant of large land on lease. The govt. rejected his request for unknown reason. During the same period  one Rae showed good results from his plantation (height:1828.8 m) near Sholur close to Ooty. This estate known as Dunsandle (height:1828.8 m)  is now owned by the Bombay Burmah Trading Company.
.Nilgiris tea plantation. S. Indiain.facebook.com
In 1859, when the British crown took over the administration of India, Thaishola (meaning mother of the forests) Estate was opened. It was  one of the two camps for Chinese prisoners of war in the Nilgiris. With a view to growing tea on large scale, the British brought Chinese prisoners of war  to Nilgiris  soon after the second Opium War (1856-1860). The Chinese  were from the Straits Settlements -which included Singapore, Malacca, Dinding and Penang. They came here to get engaged in tea-plantation and to lower the prison  overcrowding in the Madras jails. Chinese prisoners were used to plant Thaishola Estate which even today has a Jail Thottam (meaning jail garden) and the Chinese played no less role in the growth and development of tea in India. As the tea plantations gave the desired results under the Chinese, more Chinese tea planters came to Nilgiris. However, later the estate owners  turned to tea experts in S. India who learned the nuances of tea-growing by trial and error methods. Over a period of time, they became well-versed in the tea estate work.

By end of the nineteenth century there were about 3000 acres of land under tea.  Soon the the Commissioner of Nilgiris  James Wilkinson Breeks  at the Ooty Agricultural Show encouraged several tea planters to showcase their tea in London's  leading Global center for tea, opium and spice trade. Encouraged by their good evaluation of Nilgiri tea, planters turned to Indian natives to avoid middlemen in London who would take a cut in the profit.  But  Indians took a long time to drink tea on a regular basis.  The number of domestic consumers increased over a period of time, so was the expansion of tea estates to meet additional lands. Nilgiris hills produce about 70000 tons to 120000 tons annually and is the second largest tea producing region in India. An interesting fact is more than 30000 small  land owners hold  about 10 hectors of tea-producing land and supply  tea directly to the factories operating here. Here, the grading is done on the basis of the size of the leaf.
Nilgiri tea.ndiamart.com

Very aromatic and medium-bodied with a smooth, mellow taste and subtle, natural sweetness, Nilgiri tea is refreshing to drive away fatigue. Loaded with anti-oxidants, it is one of the best iced teas in the world; they never turn bitter. The expensive hand-sorted, full-leaf versions of the tea like the Orange Pekoe (O.P.) are in great demand on the international market. It achieved in Nov. 2006 "Top Honours" and fetched a world record price of $600 per kg  at the first ever tea auction held in Las Vegas, USA. A machine-sorted, lower-cost variety of high-quality tea is a semi-full leaf variety known as Broken Orange Peko. Because of high cost, this variety of tea is not available for the natives in India.
https://blog.teabox.com/history-of-the-nilgiri-tea
https://www.teasource.com/blogs/beyond-the-leaf/what-is-nilgiri-tea