The Interesting History of India's Much Loved Beverage - Tea!

For many, a good day starts with a sip of tea! Tea or Chai as its fondly called in India is more than a hot beverage. Enjoying a cup of tea with family and loved ones is a ritual that many of us enjoy. Drinking a cup helps us pace our day and embrace the rhythm of  life. It's not surprising that we are one of world's largest tea drinking nation and second largest producer of tea. From the omnipresent chai stall at every corner to more up scale cafes that offer a variety of teas, we love bonding, socializing, fixing marriages, discussing political issues and more over a cup of chai. In fact, tea stalls are a fascinating place to watch people from different walks of life, sipping on their favorite beverage as they take a break.

Most of us like to enjoy two cups a day - one with our morning breakfast and once again in the afternoons. The ritual of tea drinking in India transcends boundaries and is as diverse as our culture. Tea is enjoyed in a variety of ways - Ronga Sah (red tea without milk) and Gakhir Sah (milk tea) in Assam, Noon chai (pinkish colored salted tea) in Kashmir, Masala Chai across Gujarati homes (with homemade spice powder), some like Khade Chamach ki Chai (milky tea made with oodles of sugar) or Malai Mar Ke Chai (tea with dollops of full fat cream).

Every year on December 15th, International Tea Day is celebrated with much fervor. So brew a perfect cup and sit back as we take you through the interesting history of India's much loved beverage- Tea!

The history of tea in India is sightly muddled with some documentation present during period of Ramayana about its consumption but its popularity then is unclear. Some research states that during  the 12th century, Singpho and Khamti tribe - inhabitants of the regions where the Camellia Sinensis plant grew wild, consumed tea in form of an infusion, primarily for its medicinal and refreshing benefits. According to notes of Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, a Dutch traveler, dated around 1598, leaves of the Assam tea plant were eaten with garlic and oil in some parts of India.

Large scale commercial tea production in India began only with  the arrival of the British East India Company, which initially did not recognize the true value of the native plant- Camellia Sinensis. The British, in their quest to put an end to China's monopoly over tea production, wanted to grow tea in Assam, using smuggled seeds from China but found the soil unsuitable for the purpose. In 1823, Scottish adventurer, Robert Bruce discovered the indigenous tea plant growing wild in the region inhabited by Singpho tribe. Samples of  tea plant when analyzed, were found to be a variety of the plant grown in China  and in the early 1820s, the British East India Company began large scale production of tea in Assam.

Around the 1840s, the tea industry started taking shape with tea being cultivated around Darjeeling and Kangra region. Even today, the Indian tea industry is a flourishing endeavor and millions enjoy a cup of tea at home or from their favorite chaiwala.

Creative Commons - A Vahanvati

Nowadays, tea is consumed in a variety of ways around the world and India. Traditional Indian kitchens remedies encourage consuming tea brewed along with herbs and spices like cardamom (Elaichi), pepper (Kali Mirch), mint (Pudina), ginger (adrak) for its medicinal benefits.So, how do you like having a cup of tea? Tell us in the comments section.


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