History of Tea in India

India has always embraced tea as a part of its culture for centuries. The tale of history of tea in India is a very interesting one. With different types of tea that are grown in different areas of the country, India is the world’s largest consumer and the second-largest producer of tea. However, the growth of tea as an industry in India has been relatively recent. 

So, how did the cultivation of tea begin in India? The history of tea in India is fascinating, to say the least.

5000BC: The Beginning And The Spread Of Tea Culture

The earliest written records of Tea can be traced back to Ancient China in 2700 BC. With each passing era, tea gained more popularity in China. With the introduction of Buddhism, tea started to become a part of daily life thanks to its remarkable therapeutic properties. And so, as Buddhism spread its roots across the globe, so did tea.

This was the era when European ships coloured the blue seas and ruled maritime trade. India still had little knowledge of tea, and its primary exports were spices and ivory. Whereas China was well-known for its porcelain, spices, and tea. The popularity of Tea skyrocketed during this period. And every tea drinker fell head over heels for its aroma, taste and benefits.

History of tea in india -Beginning-of-Tea-culture-China
Singpho tribe tea

1200s - 1600s : The Singpho Tribe

Contrary to popular belief, tea does have ancient origins in India. The consumption of tea has been widespread in India since 750 BC, according to historical documents. The Singphos have used tea for years, mostly for its medical benefits. And are also believed to be among the first Indians to drink it. They frequently wrapped dried, toasted tea leaves in bamboo cane before smoking them to prepare the tea. The Singpho people still consume tea in this style. The British, however, are given credit for rediscovering and commercializing the cultivation of tea.

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1832 : The Great Expedition

The story of Indian tea history can be traced back to a local Assamese merchant, Maniram Dewan. He introduced Major Robert Bruce to the Singpho culture of drinking something very similar to tea. He went on an expedition after gaining this information and discovered that the rumours were indeed true. Tea was grown in the wild in the Upper Brahmaputra Valley in Assam.

Robert Bruce passed away before he could officially classify the plant. But his brother Charles Alexander Bruce sent the samples of Assam tea to the Botanical Garden in Calcutta. After a thorough assessment, these were identified as a variety of Chinese tea plant. This discovery was still not given much importance during the time as only Chinese tea was recognized in the market.

Due to their growing conflict of interest, the East India Company launched these expeditions. This was done in an attempt to break the Chinese monopoly on the global tea trade. One, China did not welcome foreigners into their land. And had little to no interest in trade with the outside world. Two, China was the sole supplier of tea in a market that was expanding quickly. Britain was quickly out of silver, it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with the rising demand.

Tea leaves India

1848 – The Great Britain Tea Heist

Having failed in their attempts to cultivate Chinese tea in India. A new strategy was devised, to infiltrate and steal the Camellia sinensis sapling. Robert Fortune, a Scottish botanist disguised himself as a Chinese merchant to execute the plan to ‘steal the tea’”. This was done to gain insight into their cultivation methods. In spite of several unsuccessful attempts, Fortune succeeded in bringing saplings from China to the shores of India. And that wraps up the adventurous tale of how the Chinese tea journeyed from China, out of the perilous mountains, and across the azure ocean to the Indian soils.
Indian tea was deemed better in quality and replaced the Chinese tea bush in India. The tea industry was launched in Assam and eventually spread to the Nilgris and Himalayas. The hill tracts of Darjeeling still abound in the “Chinery” tea. The bushes unique light liquoring and aromatic teas. The Chinery variety with the god given Alpine climate creates a magic which is rare and unique. On the other hand, the ‘Assam’ variety of tea bushes, with its origin in India, creates a different kind of magic. It lends itself well to the popular way of brewing with milk.

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Present Day: Tea Culture In India

India remains one of the world’s top producers of tea, churning out millions of tons of commodity-grade tea. Over the years, tea has developed into an essential part of Indian culture. And the History of tea in India is mesmerising. It is a unique way to experience Indian culture, and it is a great way to relax after a hectic day. Today, tea is enjoyed by all socio-economic classes around the world. And it’s even become an important part of the country’s economy.

It took India just four decades to become the world’s largest producer of tea. While surpassing China’s impressive export history. The new Indian model drastically altered the world tea trade, affecting all aspects of the industry. Indian tea continues to have a significant impact on the tea industry today. Despite the tea industry’s constantly evolving nature.
We owe this incredible success to the pioneers – past and present – and those yet to come.


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