Monday, January 22, 2024

History of tea in Assam, India

The unveiling of the native tea plant in 1815 conferred a significant advantage upon English trade in British-colonized India. However, the English encountered challenges arising from conflicts between China and India, as well as competition in shipping and trade with the Dutch, making the sustenance of a flourishing tea trade increasingly challenging. In the quest for suitable lands for tea plantations, Robert Bruce initiated an expedition to Assam in 1823.

In the course of his trading mission in 1823, Scottish adventurer and botanist Robert Bruce authenticated the discovery of India's indigenous tea plant. Under the guidance of Maniram Dewan, who directed him to Bessa Gam, the local Singpho chief, Bruce witnessed the indigenous Singpho tribe crafting a beverage from the leaves of wild tea-like plants. Maniram Dewan, the pioneer of tea planting in Assam, played a pivotal role in this discovery. Convinced that he had found an alternative to China's tea monopoly, Bruce negotiated with the Singpho chief to obtain samples of tea leaves with seeds for scientific examination. Despite Bruce's passing shortly after dispatching the samples for testing, his brother Charles carried on with the research.

Assuming responsibility for exploring wild Assam tea plants, Charles Bruce discovered that local tribes had been using tea for centuries as both food and beverage. By the early 1830s, Charles Bruce dispatched tea leaves to a botanical garden in Calcutta for a comprehensive examination, officially classifying the plant as Camellia sinensis var. Assamica. Bruce's efforts led to an understanding of how these plants could be propagated and cultivated, laying the foundation for the establishment of a British-dominated tea industry in India by the 1830s.

In 1834, Governor-General Lord Bentick established the Tea Committee, designating Assam as an ideal location for tea cultivation. The initial shipment of tea from Assam, crafted by the Singphos of Arunachal, was dispatched from Calcutta to London in 1835. Charles Bruce, appointed as the superintendent of the tea forests of the government of Great Britain, established a nursery in Sadiya, Assam, in 1836, initiating the cultivation of indigenous tea seed plants.

The inception of the Assam Tea Company in 1839 marked the commencement of the tea industry's expansion, steadily growing to over 160 gardens by 1862, owned by both public and private entities. Assam, acknowledged as the first Indian tea region globally, attained this status through the estate model developed by the British.
Tea Discovery in Assam

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