India today is known as a tea capital. A huge portion of today’s tea comes from India with China and India being the two largest suppliers of tea. Tea, otherwise known as ‘Chai,’ in India is the countries most popular drink. From the most elite 5 star hotels in the country, to the shanty towns, chai is found and drank. But chai was not always the staple drink in India, and how did it become so popular?
The Origin of the Tea Leaf
The tea tree originated in China and Assam. Although back prior to the ‘Great Tea Theft’ only tea from China was drunk around the world. The people from Assam had long been eating the tea leaf as a steamed vegetable and growing the plant but it was not a nation wide substance.
At the time China held the monopoly on the tea leaf and there was steep demand for tea all around the world. Great Britain was desperate for the tea but restricted by China’s control of trade.
Find out more about the Tea War between China and Great Britain by clicking Tea History:
Britain and India Team up for Tea:
The British East Indian Company is created and plans to steal tea from China. A botanist Robert Fortune steals the plant from China and brings the plant into India. Fortune also brings with him trained tea growers from China to help grow the plant.
Chinese Tea Planted in Assam and Darjeeling:
The tea research team attempt to grow the plant in Assam and Darjeeling. Although there is already a tea plant growing in Assam, the Chinese tea plant requires different climate from Assam’s low elevation and warm climate. The Chinese tea plant fails to grow in Assam. In Darjeeling where there is a cooler climate and higher altitude the Chinese is somewhat successful.
India Tea plant in Assam:
From the knowledge the Chinese tea planters bring, the tea researchers look into the Assam Tea Plant. The tea plant had been grown for centuries and initially disregarded as not good for tea. Now researchers use the knowledge from the Chinese tea plant and use it to cultivate tea from the Assam Tea Plant. The Chinese tea plant is disregarded and plans for mass producing the Assam Tea Plant is made.
India becomes the world’s largest tea trader, exporting more tea then China. The monopoly China held of Tea is ruined. With increased trade, competition and production of tea, tea prices are lowered. Tea is no longer just for the exclusive and rich but becomes a drink of all people all around the world.
Now days, China and India are the two largest exports of Tea. Fluctuating at who is the largest trade over time since the rise in Assam Tea.
Rise in Tea with the Indian People:
Tea Initially not for Majority of Indians:
Although tea was present in India during the imperialism period, tea was not always a popular drink for the Indian people.
Tea was popular in Great Britain and came back to India during the imperialism period. In Great Britain people had started adding milk to tea and then later sugar. There is not clear evidence to state why milk was originally added to tea. One thought is so that it did not stain the fine china it was drunk out off.
Initially only elite Indians or those who were close to individuals from Great Britain drank tea. Advertisement and media of the time reflect this. Showing advertisement of Tea being for upper class society and a sophisticate beverage.
Media and advertisement showed tea as a beverage for upper class, elite and majority the British to consume. As
Better access to Tea:
In 1880 the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway was opened. Allowing easier transportation off goods across India. India became known as a team market. With access to tea across the nation.
Rise in today’s tea following World War 1:
Post World War 1 there was a shift in the perception of tea and how tea was advertised. It was not until following 1920’s that the shift in attitudes towards tea that is seen in India today occurred. Tea companies started an educational propaganda to teach individuals how to perfect tea at home. Street advertisement with signs as well as demonstrations in local languages in towns taught individuals how to make tea.
Heavy advertisement of tea was created, promoting tea implementation into every day life.
Creation of ‘Chai’:
Milk and sugar was added to tea by the British. When tea entered homes of Indian people more sugar and milk was added. Indian people experimented with tea creating flavors recognizable to their palate. Spices were added include cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and other depending on personal preferences. Leading to the creation of what is known as ‘Marsala Chai,’ translated to English as ‘spiced tea.’
Chai Culture in India:
From the most elite 5-star hotels, to the shanty towns, chai is served. Chai spread across the country. With Chai being survey at home, and chai vendors popping up everywhere on the streets. A chai is a way to communicate, a welcoming and a way to unite the country. Tea is still one of India’s largest exports. Post-independence, tea still remains strong in India but is unique India and differently to tea consumed by the British.
Family’s unite of a cup of chai. People are welcomed into homes with a cup of chai. Friends catch up over a cup of chai. Arguments are settled over a cup of chai.
Tea helped build India’s economy through exportation, but more so has strengthen Indian’s community with a cup of chai.