The Tea Culture In India

Believe it or not, America is not the tea loving capital of the world. In fact, we don’t even come in second or third!

Whilst the average American enjoys the odd cup of (usually iced) tea, the typical Indian gets through rather more.

Collectively, the subcontinent devours 837000 tons of the stuff. And (depending on which stats you read… and believe) they are second only to China. But then again, they do account for roughly one fifth of the world’s population!

The types of tea drunk varies, but chai, the spiced, milky black tea remains a firm favorite.

You might be aware of India’s importance as a tea producer – second only to China. And you may also know that Indians love their tea, so much so that they can hardly bear to let the stuff leave their ports – almost three quarters of tea produced in India is drunk by its people.

But you may not know that tea as a drink was relatively unknown in India until the nineteenth century.

History

While it is true that India was acquainted with the tea plant and a history can be traced back to 750 BC, it wasn’t because they loved a cuppa.

Tea was used for its medicinal purposes, in the centuries before colonization and was not consumed en masse, as it is today.

So how did the Indians come to have such a love affair with their chai?

The answer: the British.

When the British arrived in India, they were, literally, gasping for a cuppa.

The colonial powers couldn’t get enough of the stuff, but back in those days, that meant having to trade with China.

TEA AND CHINA

Before the colonization of India, tea meant China. That is perhaps a slightly crude interpretation of the facts, but roughly true nonetheless.

Tea and China go hand in hand, with the importance it playing in their culture being paramount. The history of tea in China can be traced to around 200 BC and the Han Dynasty.

Unfortunately, China wanted the British to pay top dollar for their desirable commodity.

But by the eighteenth century, the British were pretty much hooked on tea and desperate to find some way to get their hands on a decent cuppa, without breaking the bank.

As tea addicts, we can only nod in sympathy and express some solidarity with their plight.

In an attempt to bring down the cost of the nation’s favorite brew, the British commenced tea growing in India.

There was some tea cultivation in India, but not enough to sustain the thirsty Brits.

By stealth, they introduced better methods, as well as Chinese tea farmers, to India. Other methods, including industrial espionage were employed, together with the large scale plundering and burning of land in India, to grow more plants on.

Eventually, they succeeded. By the start of the twentieth century, India was the world’s primary tea producer. But it was still not drunk by ordinary Indians.

That did not happen until the 1920s – and it took a massive marketing campaign to do so.

Gradually, with pressure sales tactics, free giveaways and the practice of tea selling at train stations, tea became the national drink of India.

TYPES OF TEA

India is associated with many types of tea.

THE INDIAN GREEN TEA

Although black tea is predominantly the go to drink for most of India, green tea is making inroads.

One of the best green teas is the Silver Queen.

This comes from Assam and may be classed also as a white tea.


ASSAM

Assam has a long tradition in India as a tea producing region. It borders China and is located in the north east of India.

It is a citrusy tea with a rose perfumed flavor.

DARJEELING

Darjeeling, known as the Champagne of teas, has become ever more highly prized in recent times.

This is because, for political reasons, it is not being currently harvested (at least, in the same quantities as previously). Not surprisingly, this has created a problem and demand continues to outstrip supply.

CHAI

Chai, or Masala Chai is a drink unique to India.

Unlike the British, who added milk and sugar separately, Indians created a new drink, with both milk and sugar already in it – and with a few added extra spices for good measure!

The milk, spices and sugar are actually all heated together as one – with various flavoring being used.