Assam tea: Origin and History, Evolution of Assam Tea Industry

Assam tea in healthy and Hygiene tea kettle

Assam is a state known for its distinctive tea plantations and stunning natural scenery, including rivers and hills covered in lush greenery. This northeastern state is one of the world's biodiversity hotspots since it is flanked on three sides by the Northern Himalayas, the Brahmaputra Plain, and the Deccan Plateau.

 India's largest tea-producing area, Assam, produces around 52% of the nation's total tea. Ever Since tea was first found in Assam in 1823, the Bruce brothers have been fully credited with its discovery. Few people are aware that the Singpho tribe drank tea as an herbal beverage long before it was discovered.

 India tops the list of tea producers, right next to China, to claim the second-place spot in the world for tea production. Right after Darjeeling, Assam alone accounts for 80% of the nation's total tea output. Although it is not well known in popular Indian history, Assam tea has a lengthy and mysterious past that is connected to British colonial control.

Let's quickly review the history of the well-known Assam tea and its origin:

The Journey and History of Assam Tea

Before Assam, China was the only country that produced tea and exported it to different nations all over the world. This refreshing drink is a worldwide addiction, even in British India, but only few knew that the northeast was home to a hidden gold mine. Unfortunately, India's past is hidden by its gorgeous gardens. Numerous stories have been collected but not recorded or recovered.

According to a legend, a scottish merchant named Robert Bruce, who was trading near Rangpur in the highlands in 1823, discovered Assam tea. He is reported to have met the local Singpho leader, Bessa Gam, through Maniram Dewan, who is regarded as a martyr of India's freedom war. Maniram Dewan demonstrated to Bruce how the Singpho, a local tribesman, made tea from the leaves of this bush.

He learned from this tribe not only how to produce high-yielding leaves nearby but also how to distinguish between various kinds of tea. But regrettably, the same chief was accused of taking part in the 1857 uprising against the British, given a life sentence, and eventually sent to Kalapani, Andaman.

 The first Indian to begin cultivating tea in Assam was Maniram Dutta Baruah, also referred to as Maniram Dewan. The Dewan was Maniram Dutta Baruah, who served as the Assam Company's main administrative and financial administrator until he quit in 1841 and afterward established his own tea estate. But since they had taken part in his 1857 uprising, the British had him executed in 1858. Following Maniram Dewan's pioneering work, a large number of individuals—primarily Assamese individuals—volunteered to grow tea.

To conduct scientific analysis on these tea leaves with seeds, Bruce made arrangements with the tribal head after Maniram Dewan introduced them. Unfortunately, Robert Bruce passed away a few years later before this plant was ever fully classified.

Some of these leaves were taken to the Calcutta botanical gardens by Robert Bruce's brother Charles in the early 1830s for careful inspection. The plant was subsequently designated as a tea variety in writing. According to reports, these leaves belong to the same species as Chinese tea.

The East India Company was able to grow a business that had previously been controlled by China thanks to the discovery of tea trees in Assam. Twelve cartons of tea produced by the Arunachal Singpho tribe were sent from Calcutta to London in 1835. The British government eventually selected Charles Bruce as the tea estates' manager, and in 1837, 46 boxes of Assam tea were sent to the Tea Commission. Let’s see the growth, followed by the history of Assam tea briefly in the paragraphs below. 

Growth of Assam Tea

The Assam tea shrub has exquisite white blossoms and leaves that are darker green, glossier, and wider than Chinese teas.

The Assam Tea Company, formed in 1839, was the first organization to be established to manufacture and grow this tea. Assam tea kept growing, and by 1862, there were over 160 estates in the Assam tea industry, operated by 57 private operators and five public organizations. The government subsequently made the decision to form a special committee to look at every facet of this development.

Another estimate states that Assam has more than 800 organized medium-to-large-sized tea plantations. Additionally, there are more than 100,000 tiny cooperatives and exclusive tea estates. One of the world's top tea-producing regions, the state of Assam produces over 600 million tonnes of tea a year on average.

 Assam's tea business is significant to the state's economy in terms of income and employment. Due to its distinctive qualities and flavor, Assam tea occupies a special position in the tea business.

 Assam tea is one of the most consumed teas in the nation today and generates enormous money. The Tocklai Tea Research Institute is located in Jorhat and is the largest tea research facility in the world.

The History of Assam Tea

The only two places in the world with native tea plants are Assam and southern China, where Assam produces the second most tea in the world. The wild tea plant variation Camellia sinensis, which is indigenous to India and is widely distributed in Assam's higher forest, is also claimed to be found in Assam.

According to legend, Assam has produced tea for 160 years. However, Assamese Singpho people started preparing tea before it was discovered. They had no idea, though, that it was indeed tea. The discovery of a plant resembling tea by British explorer Robert Bruce in the Chabua district's forests in 1821 marked the beginning of tea history. Where It all began when Robert Bruce made the discovery of tea on his voyage to Assam.

Due to his strong relationship with Bruce, Maniram Dutta Barua, also known as Maniram Dewan, was the first to advise Bruce about the tea trees cultivated by the Singpo people. These plants were indigenous to the forest.

He and his brother, Charles Alexander Bruce, were introduced to Bessa Gam, the Singpho local leader, by Maniram Dewan. Bessa Gum handed Bruce a sip after demonstrating to him how the tribesmen produced a beverage from this shrub's leaves. The Singpho people called the tea Phanap. The term "tea" did not yet exist at that time.

Maniram Dewan took the Bruce brothers to see the tea farms that were already in operation because they were both curious about learning more about and harvesting these leaves. They sent a message to the British East India Company after learning that the area was rich enough for plantations and that thousands of tea leaves were produced there. And in Assam, the British East India Company started a massive tea plantation in the early 1820s. The British created the first tea plantation in Upper Assam's Chabua in 1837. It's thought that the term "Chabua" comes from the region where tea was initially produced. Bua is a plant, and cha is tea.

 The British East India Company initially had no success in growing tea. But after doing a lot of research, they decided to use the Guti Puli and Cloning plantations. It is well known that the British imported tea saplings from China. Only 80 to 90 of these 2000 saplings could be saved, as the Chinese tea saplings were unable to withstand the extreme temperatures in the Assam region. However, the British started cloning these plants when they discovered that numerous tea trees were native to the Assamese jungles.

Later, the Tocklai Tea Research Institute was founded in Jorhat in 1911. Following that, the British began growing tea properly and systematically. It is also known that the largest tea research facility in the world is the Tok Lai Tea Research Institute.

In the beginning, the Assamese people held back from initiating tea cultivation out of fear of the British, who controlled the Assamese tea industry. As a result, the Assamese frequently fell behind.

Later on, the only Assamese family to establish a tea plantation in Assam is thought to have been Hemendra Prasad Barooah's family. Famous tea grower Hemendra Prasad Barooah and his family were recognized for their contributions to Assamese tea. His tea plantation was greatly influenced by his initiation. As a result, the Barua families owned numerous tea estates, some of which are still in operation, throughout Assam. Bhergaon is home to one of their tea gardens, and the tea from Bhergaon is regarded as some of their best. This Assamese family-owned tea estate is another reason Bhergaon is well-known.

A History of Evolution in the Manufacturing Process of Tea

 Earlier, no chemicals were used in the tea-making process. The tea leaves were manually selected, dried, and delicately cooked in a completely organic cultivation procedure. The sheets were meticulously hand-rolled before being dried. In addition, there are no chemical pesticides or fertilizers used in tea cultivation. Before the 1970s and 1980s, there was no machine use. At that time, chemicals were crucial to the growth and manufacture of tea.

Tea was once only farmed for its nutritional benefits. Tea plantations initially did not appeal to the British in terms of profit. However, as more tea businesses expanded, the British started trading tea for money. With England, they exchanged tea. A plane was sent from England to transport 20 kg of Assam tea leaves. They quickly started adding more chemicals to produce their tea as rivalry began to emerge. People began to focus less on naturally creating high-quality tea and more on turning a profit. Tea was thereby artificially cultivated. In other words, tea was grown using fertilizers, pesticides, and chemicals.

However, between 2008 and 2010, people began cultivating and making tea using organic methods. They started to realize that preparing tea with organic ingredients could help them live a healthy life and that chemicals often have negative side effects.

People didn't know enough about the many kinds of tea leaves back then. There were only two varieties of tea leaves available at the time: orthodox tea leaves and CTC tea leaves (crush, tear, curl). Tea leaves are pushed through a succession of cylindrical rollers in the CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) process. Hundreds of pointed teeth on these cylindrical rollers crush, rip and curl the tea into small, solid pellets. Orthodox tea, on the other hand, is a tea that has undergone traditional processing.

However, there is a grading procedure for these two varieties of tea. Tea grading is the process of assessing tea to ascertain the standard and state of the tea leaves. The lowest grade is referred to as "Fannings" or "Dust," and the best grade is called "Orange Pekoe." The CTC offers four tee grades: BP, BOP, BPS, and BP1. These names are solely meant to be understood by common people. White tea and purple tea are two different kinds of tea.

Although numerous businesses have made numerous attempts to resurrect the conventional, natural processes for processing tea leaves, these have since been replaced by equipment and chemicals. It is important that every community needs to put in a lot of effort and commitment to upholding organic and traditional traditions while giving every home the best tea.

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