Though the Camellia synesis is also native to India, and grew in the wild long before its actual value was understood, it is thought that tea was carried to India by silk caravans travelling from China to Europe centuries ago.
Native Americans ate the leaves occasionally, but they were largely employed for their medicinal powers.
It took a long time for it to evolve into what is currently known as chai, a flavorful black tea sweetened with sugar and milk, along with spices like cardamom and ginger, and used in cooking, vegetable dishes, and soup.
Tea was initially introduced to Indians by the British and is now an integral component of daily life. Tea originated in India thanks to the British, who sought to break China’s tea monopoly after discovering that Indian soil was ideal for growing these plants.
The presence of native flora indicated that the soil was suitable for transplanting Chinese seedlings, and the Assam valley and Darjeeling’s towering mountains were chosen as early tea planting sites.
Tea manufacturing in India began to blossom after 14 years of fruitless attempts, allowing the manufacture of a tea that was equivalent to, if not better than, its Chinese counterpart.
The native tea species
When Scotsman Robert Bruce identified a native type of Camellia sinensis plant in Assam in 1823, commercial tea plantations were first created under British rule.
According to legend, a local merchant named Maniram Dewan brought Bruce to the Singpho people, who drank a tea-like beverage. The Singphos gathered fragile leaves from a wild plant and dried them in the sun.
It’s worth noting that, at the time these changes were taking shape, the East India Company was attempting to break the Chinese monopoly on the global tea trade due to a growing conflict of interests.
In response to this scenario, one of the Company’s initiatives was to begin producing tea in British possessions, particularly India.
Around the year 1840, India’s tea industry began to take shape. Chinary tea plants, which were first tested in Assam, were later tested in the high-elevation districts of Darjeeling and Kangra, where they thrived.
Tea planting in Darjeeling began in 1841, when Archibald Campbell, the first superintendent of Darjeeling, experimented by planting a few chinar trees.
Tea consumption has evolved in a variety of ways, with each region of this large country producing its own chai variations. On one end of the scale are the gourmet stores that sell and serve good Indian tea, while on the other are the simple roadside chaiwallas who offer hundreds of steaming cups to people from all walks of life.
While India is today known for its high-quality tea and the countless cups of chai consumed by Indians, the custom of drinking tea as a regular beverage did not begin in India.
Tea had been used as a medicinal drink in India since ancient times (nearly identical to China), but it had never been used as a beverage.
After years of selling tea to Portugal, Japan opted to seal its doors to the rest of the world and isolate itself, leaving the global tea trade in the hands of the Chinese. While China was willing to trade, it was adamant about keeping the secrets of tea cultivation.
Darjeeling tea estates began in the 1850s, and the world soon sampled the “Champagne of teas,” Darjeeling tea.
The Chinese tea monopoly was fully broken with the creation of Darjeeling tea and widespread marketing by the British, and Indian teas quickly seized both the market and the imagination of worldwide tea consumers; and the rest, as we all know, is history.