The History of Assam Tea: Remembering our Roots

Assam is the largest tea producing region in India and the second largest after southern China, the only two regions in the world with native tea plants. Assam is also said to be home to India’s indigenous, wild-growing tea plant variety, Camellia sinensis, the tea plants being abundant in the Upper Assam jungles.

Albeit the tea history of Assam issaid to be 160 years old, the process of brewing tea by the Singpho tribe of Assam began even before its discovery. But they did not know it was actually tea. However, in the year 1821 the story of tea came to existencewhen Robert Bruce, a British adventurer, happened to discover tea-like plants growing wild in the jungles of the Chabua district. Robert Bruce, in one of his expeditions, discovered tea in Assam.

It was Maniram Dutta Barua, popularly known as Maniram Dewan, who first informed Bruce (as he was in close contact with Bruce) about the tea plants grown by the Singpho people; these plants were grown wild in their jungles. He, along with his brother Charles Alexander Bruce, was then directed by Maniram Dewan to Bessa Gam, the local Singpho chief. Bessa Gam showed Bruce how the tribesmen prepared a liquid from the leaves of this shruband also offered him to drink the liquid.Earlier, tea was called as Phanap by the Singphos. The term tea was not known then.

As both Bruce brothers were curious to know about these leaves and to yield them, Maniram Dewan showed the themthe existing fields used for tea cultivation. And when they came to know that there are hundreds and thousands of tea leaves growing in Assam and the land is fertile enough for plantation, they telegrammed the British East India Company. And the British East India Company began the large-scale production of tea in Assam in the early 1820s. In 1837, the first tea cultivation by the English was established at Chabua in Upper Assam. And it is believed that the place Chabua got its name after the first tea cultivation there (cha means tea and bua means plant).

Initially, it was not a success for the British East India Company when it came to tea cultivation. But later, after much research, they took out two forms of plantation, namely, Guti Puli and Cloning. It is known that for the cultivation of tea, the English brought seedlings from China. But from among those 2000 seedlings, only 80-90 seedlings could be saved as the Chinese tea seedlings could not adapt to the high temperatures of Assam’s environment. But when the English became aware of the fact that Assam itself has numerous tea plants growing wild in the jungles, they began to make clones from these plants.

But eventually, in Tocklai, situated in Jorhat, a research center, Tocklai Tea Research Institutewas established in the year 1911; and then eventually the British started the tea cultivation completely and properly. The Tocklai Tea Research Institute is the biggest research center of tea in the world.

Asthe British were controlling the tea industry in Assam, the people of Assam stopped themselves from initiating tea cultivation as they were afraid of the British; and for this reason, the Assamese people lagged behind to a great extent in many cases.

But it is known that Hemendra Prasad Barooah’s family was the only Assamese family then to have started the tea plantation business in Assam. Hemendra Prasad Barooah was a famous tea planter and his family was known for their contributions to Assam tea.Their initiation had a great impact on their tea plantation. And for this, Barooah’s family had many tea gardens in many parts of Assam and some are still in existence. And one of their tea garden is in Bhergaon; and it is said that Bhergaon’s tea is deemed one of the best teas. Also Bhergaon is famous for this tea estate is owned by an Assamese family.

Earlier, no chemicals were added to yield tea. It was purely organic in nature, i.e., tea leaves were handpicked, followed by the withering of the tea leaves,followed by the steaming of the leaves meticulously, then the leaves are hand rolled very carefully, and eventually drying. Also, zero fertilizers and pesticides were used while cultivating tea. The use of machinery did not exist until the 70s-80s when chemicals began playing a major role in planting and producing tea.

Earlier, tea was cultivated solely for sustenance. The British were not business-minded initially, when it came to tea plantation. However, when many tea companies started to venture, the Britishbegan to trade tea so as to make profit. They used to trade tea to England; airplanes were send from England to carry 20kgs of tea leaves from Assam. And as the competitive trend began to evolve, they started using more and more chemicals for the rapid production of tea. Gradually people paid more attention to making profit than to make quality tea naturally. And this resulted in yielding tea artificially, i.e. chemicals were used and pesticides and fertilizers for tea cultivation.

But then again, during 2008-2010, people started to cultivate and produce tea organically as they began to apprehend that chemicals come with a box full of side effects and that producing tea organically helped them to lead a salubrious life.

Earlier, people did not have enough knowledge regarding various types of tea leaves. Only two types of tea leaves were known to be generated then, namely, CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) tea leaves and Orthodox tea leaves. In CTC (crush, tear, curl) the tea leaves are passed through a series of cylindrical rollers. These cylindrical rollers have hundreds of sharp teeth that crush, tear, and curl the tea into small, hard pellets. On the other hand, Orthodox tea is a type of tea where the leaves are processed using the traditional process.

These two tea types undergo the grading process. Grading of tea is the process of assessing tea which determines the quality and condition of the tea leaves. The highest grades are known as "orange pekoe", and the lowest as "fannings" or "dust".CTC tea grades include BP, BOP, BPS, BP1. These names are given only to make the layman understand easily.Tea variants include white tea, purple tea etc.

Ésah is thus trying to bring back the organic traditional methods of processing tea leaves which is now replaced by machines and chemicals in this age. Ésah completely apprehends your value and this is why our community aims at working zealously which promises of maintaining organic and traditional values while delivering the best sip at your doorway.

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