Posts from 2016-02

History and Origin of Tea in India

Although the development of tea as a thriving industry in India has been more recent, historical records indicate the prevalence of tea drinking in India since 750 BC. In the 16th century, it was also observed that people in India were preparing a vegetable dish using tea leaves with garlic and oil.


The ultimate thrust towards commercial tea cultivation was driven by the incorrigible tea addiction of the British. Due to this addiction, they were buying it in large quantities from the Chinese. By 1750, they were purchasing millions of pounds of tea every year from China. Even though they managed to counterbalance it with the opium trade to some extent, it was obvious that their tea addiction was getting exorbitantly expensive and unsustainable.


This realization led to a sustained effort by the British to understand tea production and cultivate the crop in India. In early 1774, Warren Hastings, then Governor-General of Bengal, sent a few select samples of tea seeds from China to his British emissary in Bhutan – George Bogle – for planting. Noted English botanist Sir John Banks was asked to make notes on tea in 1776, and he concluded that the British must undertake tea cultivation in India. Colonel Robert Kyd from the army regiment of the British East India Company also tried to cultivate Chinese seeds at the botanical garden that he founded (now named Indian Botanical Garden at Howrah in present day Kolkata) in 1780.


Meanwhile, Scottish explorer Robert Bruce made a startling discovery in 1823 when he found a native tea plant that was growing in the Upper Brahmaputra Valley and being brewed by the local Singhpho tribe. Assamese nobleman Maniram Dutta Barbhandari Baruah (also known as Maniram Dewan) gave this vital information to Robert and his brother. Maniram went on to become the first Indian to undertake private tea cultivation in Assam.


While Robert Bruce died before he could get the plant officially classified, his brother Charles Alexander Bruce dispatched the tea samples to the Botanical Garden at Calcutta on Christmas Eve of 1834. On closer analysis, these were officially classified as a variation of the Chinese tea plant (Camellia sinensis var sinensis). This plant was named Camellia sinensis var Assamica (Masters) Kitamura.


Initially, the British felt that the Assamese plant was inferior, but they later realized that the Chinese variety was unable to survive the hot weather conditions in Assam. Eventually, they decided to go ahead with the Assamese plant and by 1838, the first consignment of 12 chests of Assam tea had reached London. Subsequently Assam Company - the first joint stock tea company - was set up in London and followed by other companies like George Williamson and Jorehaut Tea Company.


Darjeeling was transferred to the East India Company in 1835, and the Chinese tea variant was deemed suitable for the region in 1841. Dr A Campbell was the first to plant Chinese seeds in Darjeeling that he had brought from Kumaon. Commercial plantations started in the 1850s and 113 plantations were set up in Darjeeling by 1874, covering 18,888 acres and accounting for a production of 3.9 million pounds.


The positive results from Assam and Darjeeling inspired many similar endeavors towards cultivating tea across the entire foothills of the Himalayas and other parts of India. By 1863, 78 plantations had been set up in Kumaon, Dehra Dun, Garhwal, Kangra Valley and Kulu. In South India, Dr Christie was the first to explore the potential of tea plantations in the Nilgiri in 1832. By 1853, India’s tea exports had reached 183.4 tons. They further soared to 6700 tons by 1870 and 35,274 tons by 1885.


Tea production in India has continued to prosper after 1947. The Marwari community played a key role in this regard, as many Marwaris took over tea plantations from British owners. Tea production has increased by more than 250 per cent since 1947 with the corresponding rise in area under production at around 40 per cent. India’s total tea production reached around 1,197.18 million kg in 2014-15. Of this, around 955.82 million kg (79.8 per cent) was produced in North India and 241.36 million kg (20.2 per cent) was produced in South India.



Tea - Drink of Good Health


First of all it is critical to understand these different tea varieties. While all of them come from the same tea plant, the difference between these varieties lies in their processing methods.


For preparation of green tea, the leaves are withered and then steamed or pan fired, before they are rolled and dried. This tea undergoes very little oxidation. Green tea constitutes of catechins (catechin, epicatechin, epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate, epigallocatechin gallate) in monomeric form. On the other hand, during black tea manufacturing, both withering and fermentation are carried out. As a result of the oxidation process, the monomeric catechins in green leaves are converted to the aflavins (dimeric form) and the arubigins (oligomeric form) during manufacture of black tea. Flavonoids like kaempferol, quercetin and myricetin glycosides are present in both green and black tea. During the preparation of oolong tea, the leaves are partially fermented. White tea is prepared with the least processing. Immature tea leaves are picked just before their buds open completely. The name comes from the silvery fuzz covering the buds that becomes white after drying.


Scientific research has established a strong connection between black tea consumption and health. The human body creates millions of free radicals (molecule/atom with unpaired electron in its outer orbit) on a continuous basis in order to carry out its metabolic process. They need to be checked by antioxidant enzymes in the body or antioxidants in the food that we eat. Excessive presence of free radicals disturbs this balance and causes cell damage that leads to most chronic diseases like arthritis, emphysema and bronchitis, atherosclerosis or heart disease, peptic ulcer in the stomach, type 2 diabetes, kidney problems, liver problems and also aging, which includes wrinkling of skin.


Black tea polyphenols neutralize the effect of free radicals. It also has fat burning properties that help boost body metabolism and reduce appetite. Polyphenols in black tea help in the prevention of viral, bacterial and inflammatory reactions. Dimeric and oligomeric catechins present in black tea improve insulin signaling and glucose control that is beneficial in protecting the body from damages caused by excess blood sugar after the onset of type 2 diabetes. Black tea is also a vital defense against cancer and cardiovascular diseases. It has L Theanine, which improves alpha brain wave activity, thereby aiding in relaxation and bringing down stress.


Just like black tea, green tea is also rich in antioxidant polyphenols - catechins, flavonols, the aflavins and the arubigins. The most significant departure is the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCg), which is found in its highest concentration in green tea and has been found to be a powerful antioxidant. In addition, EGCg has the ability to destroy cancer cells without causing any harm to healthy tissue as well as lower LDL cholesterol and controlling the abnormal functioning of blood clots. It’s also been found to be good for bone health, oral health, weight loss and improvement in brain function.


Oolong tea shares common characteristics with both black tea and green tea due to its manufacturing process. It is more suitable for people who prefer a low caffeine option. White tea is considered to be a far greater source of antioxidants than green tea because the leaves undergo minimum processing.

Health Benefits:

According to the American Heart Association, researchers from the Boston University School of Medicine gave black tea to 70 people with coronary artery blockages for four weeks to study its effect on blood vessel function. At the conclusion of the study, they found that the patients' blood vessels had become nearly 50 percent more efficient. The researchers believe that the flavonoids in the tea prevent plaque from forming on artery walls, potentially protecting tea drinkers from artery diseases that result in heart attack and stroke.

- Boosts Body Immune System

- Burns calories and helps in reducing weight

- Improves blood circulation and regulates blood pressure

- Reduces risk of heart attack

- Boosts functioning in old age

- Reduces the risk of cancer

- Protects and strengthens bones

- Results in Whiter & Plaque-free Teeth


Tea Supply Chain - Explained!

Tea comes from an evergreen bush—Camellia Sinensis—that grows best at a fairly high altitude. It can take from 5 to 7 years after being planted for the tea bush to become suitable for commercial exploitation, after which it can remain productive for over 100 years. All types of tea—black tea, green tea, white tea, Oolong tea, etc.—are produced from the buds and leaves of the same plant; the difference is in the processing. Technically, tea is harvested all year round, but there are also certain peak seasons. For example, the highest quality (and most expensive) Darjeeling tea is plucked in April. After plucking, the tea leaves need to be delivered to a factory, preferably within 5 to 7 hours after harvesting to prevent loss of quality. Although most plantations have their own processing units, small growers need to sell their green leaf to independent Bought Leaf Factories (BLFs) or to estate factories nearby. At the processing plant, the tea leaves go through a process of drying and crushing, resulting in factory tea—also known as “made tea”. This processed tea is then sold in packets and chests through auctions and international traders, ending up at the tea blenders, retail and eventually the consumer. The tea supply chain is characterized by a very strong vertical integration by just a few multinationals. At the global level, 85% of global production is sold by multinationals. Direct links between manufacturers and producers are common. The main packers, Unilever (12% of the global market) and Tata Tea (4% of the market) are key players in the consumer market. They dominate the trade, have a strong influence on transport companies, and source part of their supplies from their own plantations.

Tea is a very labor intensive crop. Plantations and small farmers employ thousands of workers to maintain and harvest their tea fields. Work in tea gardens is usually gender specific. Harvesting, generally referred to as plucking, absorbs the most amount of labor and is carried out almost exclusively by female workers. There is typically a daily wage for tea plucking, with a stipulated minimum quantum of leaves to be plucked. Male workers are generally employed only for pruning, applying fertilizers and agrochemicals, or hauling heavy loads. As these are largely seasonal or occasional activities, men sometimes have work only for 10-15 days in the month.