Tea in IndiaExploring the narrative of how tea reached India, one the world's foremost tea grower.
Tea is a mystical herb that will calm you when you are worried, activate you are lethargic, cool you when you are feeling hot, and warm you when you are feeling cold. In some sense, it is almost as though tea knows what you want and how you are feeling. As the old Chinese saying goes, “ Drinking a daily cup of tea will surely starve the apothecary.” Let’s explore this marvel called, tea and how it reached India.
What is tea?- Revealing the mystery
Tea is the leaf and bud of the a plant called Camellia sinensis . It goes through a process that involves drying and rolling the tea before packaging it for consumption. Camellia sinensis, grows in tropical and subtropical climates, and is a flowering evergreen shrub that produces small white flowers; the leaves and buds are ready to be harvested three years after the shrub is planted.
The traditional tea-growing countries are China, Japan, India and Sri Lanka. However, in recent years, new tea-producing countries have emerged. Origin impacts the flavour characteristics while altitude, soil type, plant type and age of the tea plant are other influencing factors.
Each origin can produce many types of tea, although regions are usually known for one type or another. For example, Japan is known for green matcha tea. India for it’s oolong and black teas. China is known for white tea and pu-erh.
It is important to learn where your tea comes from, what season it was plucked in and how it was manufactured. These insights will help one determine the quality of the tea.
Where it began? – The Discovery of Tea
In the 3rd Century AD, Shunan Tang, a farmer from the Chinese Tang dynasty was foraging in the forest, tasting herbs and leaves. He accidently poisoned himself. However, before the poison could end his life, a leaf drifted in his mouth. He chewed on it and it revived him. That was the discovery of tea. It is one of the most popular drinks in the world now. But, initially it was consumed with food, cooked with vegetables. While archaeologists confirm that tea cultivation is as old as 6000 years. Its consumption as a drink is only as recent as 1500 years ago. It was called Matcha or Mocha in China. It became so popular that it gave way to a Chinese tea culture. Tea found itself among artists, poets, aristocrats, and royals. It was even a very popular medium for artists to paint with.
Tea Travels Across the globe, reaches India - The Chai Chai Phenomenon
Tea was like a secret that belonged to China for many years. It was in the 9th century that a Japanese Monk brought the first tea plant to Japan. The Japanese created their own distinct tea culture, today popularly known as the Japanese tea ceremony. Even though, a culture did bloom in Japan. The monopoly of tea cultivation still stayed with China.
In the early 1600s, the Dutch were the first to bring tea to Europe. It is the introduction of tea to England , today one of the strongest tea growing and consuming nation. It is said that when Queen Catherine of Braganza was married to King Charles II, of the British Empire. She brought two very important things for the British Empire, seven Malarial Islands in India (called as Mumbai today) and Tea, which was her favourite drink. Many credit Queen Catherine for introducing tea to England and it is through the efforts of the East India Company that India has the blossoming tea regions of Darjeeling, Assam, Coonor, and Himachal Pradesh.
There are still many narratives brewing around this herb for centuries that will slowly steep in beautiful notes of wonder and amuse.