BLOG: Tea in India~From Farms to Cups
So many of my friends and family are coffee-drinkers. They love their espressos, gourmet grinds, and lattes. Though I am known to enjoy a latte occasionally, I am no coffee-drinker. Tea is my drink of choice--whether it's hot with a spot of cream or milk or iced when the weather is wicked-hot, I absolutely love it. In fact, I prefer to BREW my own tea from loose-leaf product. I've been told, even by British friends, that my love for loose-leaf is a little unusual. But for me, it's all about taste--loose leaf teas have a burst of flavor that I just don't get from bags.
This week, I'm pleased to host author Liz Harris, whose book The Darjeeling Inheritance deals with a place where tea has become a powerful part of the economy. Please join me in welcoming Liz to Brook's Journal, and while you're reading, go grab a spot of tea!
The Farming of Tea in India, and its Importance in the 1930s
By Liz Harris
Back in the early 1820s, the British East India Company began the large-scale production of tea in Assam, North India, and in 1837, they established the first English tea garden in Upper Assam. Three years later, the Assam Tea Company began the commercial production of tea. This rapidly expanded during the years of the British Raj, 1858 to 1947, as increasingly vast tracts of land were given over to tea production. By the early 1900s, Assam was the leading tea-producing region in the world, and Indian tea, to be a legacy of colonialism, was starting to play a huge part in global commerce.
The introduction of Chinese tea plants to India is generally credited to Robert Fortune. Sent to China in 1948 by the East India Company, and employed later by the Royal Horticultural Society, his mission was to steal tea plants and seedlings, which were regarded as property of the Chinese empire. To do this, he employed a variety of devious means, which included disguising himself as a Chinese mandarin.
In the end, he managed to introduce 20,000 tea plants and seedlings to India, including the region of Darjeeling, which stood on the steep slopes in the foothills of the Himalayas, where the soil had the acid content liked by Camelia plants, the family to which the tea plant belongs. He also brought to India a group of trained Chinese tea workers who would work with the production of tea.
However, with the exception of a few plants which survived in established Indian gardens, most of the Chinese tea plants that Fortune introduced to India perished. The technology and knowledge that came from China, however, lived on, and was instrumental in the growth of the Indian tea industry.
Where Robert Fortune failed, Archibald Campbell, also known as Arthur, succeeded. He was the first superintendent of the sanatorium town of Darjeeling, the most beautiful of the hill stations, and his contribution to the flourishing of the unique tea produced in Darjeeling is glanced at in Darjeeling Inheritance.
From the first, Indian-grown tea proved extremely popular in Britain, both for its greater strength - many English men found China tea insipid, and preferred the strong dark brew of Indian tea - and because it was seen as a patriotic product of the empire.
When first introduced to England, tea was considered a high-status drink, but as it steadily fell in price, it increased in popularity among the working class. It received an extra boost when from the early 19th century on, the Temperance Movement heavily promoted tea-drinking as an alternative to beer. Water was considered to be of dubious quality, but the boiling necessary for tea rendered it safe.
By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, big brands such as Lyons and Liptons dominated the market. Tea was the dominant drink for all classes during the Victorian era, and had become the ‘norm’, while China tea was a minority taste. And until the 1970s and the rise of instant coffee, Indian tea had almost sole command of the hot drinks’ market. Its rivals were cocoa, coffee, and savoury drinks such as Bovril and Oxo.
But India, itself, although now a tea-drinking country, hasn’t been so for very long. At the time of its independence from the British in 1947, only 20% of the total tea production was for consumption in India. This was because the drink had a negative association with the imperial rule, and was also believed by some to be unhealthy.
Gandhi wrote in his book Key to Health, published in 1948, that ‘The leaves contain tannin which is harmful to the body. Tannin is generally used in the tanneries to harden leather. When taken internally it produces a similar effect upon the mucous lining of the stomach and intestine. This impairs digestion and causes dyspepsia.’
It was only in the 1960s, when a cheaper tea became available, which was suited to being boiled with milk, with the addition of plenty of sugar and even spices, that tea drinking started to become popular in India. Today, India consumes more tea than any other country in the world, and 80% of its total production is for the local market.
But these figures don’t apply to Darjeeling tea, my focus when writing my novel. Today, three-quarters of Darjeeling tea is exported to 43 countries. This is the tea of the connoisseur. It’s drunk pure and fresh, without sugar, milk, lemon, cardamom, ginger or black pepper. The product of an ideal combination of soil, climate, location and method of production, its taste is unique, and cannot be replicated anywhere else in the world.
After eleven years in school in England, Charlotte Lawrence returns to Sundar, the tea plantation owned by her family, and finds an empty house. She learns that her beloved father died a couple of days earlier and that he left her his estate. She learns also that it was his wish that she marry Andrew McAllister, the good-looking younger son from a neighbouring plantation.
Unwilling to commit to a wedding for which she doesn’t feel ready, Charlotte pleads with Dan Fitzgerald, the assistant manager of Sundar, to teach her how to run the plantation while she gets to know Andrew. Although reluctant as he knew that a woman would never be accepted as manager by the local merchants and workers, Dan agrees.
Charlotte’s chaperone on the journey from England, Ada Eastman, who during the long voyage, has become a friend, has journeyed to Darjeeling to marry Harry Banning, the owner of a neighbouring tea garden.
When Ada marries Harry, she’s determined to be a loyal and faithful wife. And to be a good friend to Charlotte. And nothing, but nothing, was going to stand in the way of that.
All About Liz
Born in London, Liz Harris graduated from university with a Law degree, and then moved to California, where she led a varied life, from waitressing on Sunset Strip to working as secretary to the CEO of a large Japanese trading company.
Six years later, she returned to London and completed a degree in English, after which she taught secondary school pupils, first in Berkshire, and then in Cheshire.
In addition to the ten novels she’s had published, she’s had several short stories in anthologies and magazines.
Liz now lives in Oxfordshire. An active member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Historical Novel Society, her interests are travel, the theatre, reading and cryptic crosswords. To find out more about Liz, visit her website at: www.lizharrisauthor.com
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