Tea is the most common hot beverage in Indian households. In fact, Tea is much more than a hot beverage. It’s a ritual, a mindset, a way of life. As much as we love tea, we know very little about its origins and history. So pick up your warm cup of happiness and take a trip down history.
According to legend, the history of tea drinking in India began with a Buddhist monk 2000 years ago; this monk decided to spend seven sleepless years in penance, but in the fifth year, he almost fell asleep. He began chewing some leaves from a nearby bush, which invigorated him and enabled him to stay awake. These were the leaves of the wild tea plant. In 16th century India, locals used to brew the leaves of the wild native tea plants and drink it or, prepare a vegetable dish using tea leaves, garlic and oil. In fact, it was also an integral portion of Ayurveda in ancient India for treating serious to trifling maladies.
It was the British who introduced this magical potion to the commercial market. The incurable tea addiction of the British led them to cultivate the crop in India. In the late 1830s, the tea plant was growing wild in the jungles of Assam. The British East India Company concluded that the climate in these areas was perfect for tea growing. They planted and nurtured 80,000 tea seeds in the Botanical Gardens in Calcutta before transferring them to the newly prepared tea gardens of Assam.
Initially, Indians did not welcome tea with open arms. It took the British years, to make tea popular here. The widespread popularity of tea as a recreational drink began in the 1920s, after a successful advertising campaign by the British established Tea Association. Indians reinvented their tea with ample milk and sugar, jaggery and spices like ginger, cinnamon or cardamom. Tea presented in silver boxes was also a popular gift item among the rich.
Tea drinking in India has evolved in myriad ways over the years; though it never got the treatment of the imperial Japanese style of tea, it always had a certain old-world charm of its own. Initially thought of, as a drink only for the Royals, tea is now available in modest tea stalls dotting every second street to railway platforms to the boardrooms of corporate India, becoming the staple drink of the common man. Today, there’s hardly an Indian home that doesn’t welcome its guests with a steaming cup of tea.
Since 1947, tea production in India has increased by 250%, with the corresponding rise in area under tea cultivation being 40%. Today, India is proud to be the second-largest tea producer in the world, having one of the most technologically equipped tea industries and accounting for almost 31% of the global tea output. Assam, West Bengal, Himachal Pradesh and Kerala are the leading states for tea production, with Darjeeling Tea being one of the world’s most exclusive teas.