Palampore- the history of tea

A bit about Kangra Tea.

In the mid eighteenth century the British introduced Tea, one of their most prized traditions, into India. Along with toy trains and beautiful hill stations, the tea estates added a rare and singular charm to the Himalayan landscape.

In the year 1852, tea plantation was first brought to Kangra Valley. A distinctly flavourful line of exquisite teas began to be produced in the Palampur area of the Valley, which is in modern day Himachal Pradesh. This incredible heritage has been painstakingly nurtured and preserved through the years by inhabitants of the region and now himalayan people are presenting this delectable gift to the world.  

The legendary history of tea

The story begins in China where tea was first discovered. The legend goes that nearly 4,800 years ago as Emperor Shen Nung sat under a tree, leaves from a nearby plant, Camellia sinensis (tea) blew in to some drinking water being boiled by a servant. The emperor, a keen herbalist loved its taste and the rest as they say, is history. While the veracity of this account is near impossible to ascertain, the origin of tea in China is undisputed. Tea remained a Chinese drink for at least a couple of thousand years with small amount of trade through the Silk Route with neighbouring countries, before Europeans and the rest of the world got the first whiff through traders from the east.

In the early 16th century as Portuguese ships touched the ports of Guandong in China, the first boxes of tea started finding their way by sea to Europe. Over time this exotic drink grew to become the foremost Chinese export. Tea spread gradually, to France (1638), England (1645) and Germany (1650) followed by North America by mid 17th century. It is believed that the wedding of Charles II to Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza, a tea addict, in the mid 17th century made the drink fashionable in England. The country was to become one of the foremost champions of this exquisite drink. Tea grew in popularity on the British islands, but the taxes made it expensive for the average consumer to buy. This led to smuggling for tax avoidance and to gangs getting involved in its trade.

Some records suggest that what started as a small volume of smuggling grew into an organised crime network smuggling up-to 7 million pounds of tea a year by the late 18th century, far exceeding legal imports of around 5 million pounds per year. By the early 19th century (1838) the competition for shipping tea from China increased, forcing the East India Company (EIC) to establish its own Tea plantations. India being the hub of the EIC’s operation became a favoured place to grow tea, starting with Assam and spreading soon to Darjeeling and Kangra. Introduction of tea into India by the British proved to be a huge success. By 1890s Indian tea exceeded Chinese tea exports into England. This was the time of Tea clipper races on the high seas between importers from Europe and America to bring back the produce from the East to western markets quicker, to secure the highest prices.

The politics of tea doesn’t end there however and continues in the postcolonial period and right up to today. A sense of ownership of this product is palpable among many cultures; the Chinese as the discoverers and earliest drinkers, the Europeans and among them the British as the main promoters not only of tea but also of the production of tea to the Indian subcontinent and other colonies and Indians as one the largest producers and among its biggest consumers. Such love and ownership has led to several tussles among players. Between the British and the Indians the shared history of the beverage while sometimes a complex issue, remains one of those deep and personal relationships that will keep them wedded to each other long into the future. Top selling blends like English Breakfast Tea and Afternoon tea for instance reflect a long tradition of exquisite blending expertise in the UK coupled with a great mix of Himalayan, Ceylon and Kenyan teas. Above all of this however and perhaps in no small measure on account of it, tea remains secure in its position as one of the foremost nourishments the human race has ever known.

You can read the full article in Confluence Magazine UK under the economics section titled 'Storm in My Tea cup' here: http://confluence.org.uk/