‘Assam’ in History of Tea

The matter of place of origin of tea is a controversial one. Botanists are of divided opinions. A section of them are of the opinion that tea originated in Assam and another section gives the credit to China. Samual Weldon, a tea scientist, in his book Tea in Assam mentions Assam as the place where tea plantation first started or tea plants were discovered. He goes on to say that tea plants travelled to China from Assam.

Due to the damp climate and its soil, tea plants in China don’t grow tall. His argument is that there is only one species of tea plant and that is of Assam. This argument seems to be strong and it is true that the tea plants grown in Assam are strong. Another scientist from Java Island too is of the same opinion; he maintains that tea plants were taken from Assam to be planted in China.The name of thescientist is Cohen Stuart. There is one truth that is to be given due importance. In China cultivation and business of tea started much earlier than Assam but although tea grew in Assam earlier, there was a great delay in identifying the plant and commercial cultivation. In other words, tea plants remained in an unidentified and wild state in Assam till a much later time. It was only during the British days that commercial tea cultivation started in Assam.

The Chinese identified and used tea as one of their regular item of drink. ShenNung, the Chinese emperor who ruled during 5000 BC, believed to have discovered tea. Tea boiled in water was originally used as a medicine. Emperor ShenNung cured many people of their ailments by using tea in this manner. There is a magnificent story attached to tea. Once the Emperor went on tour with his entourage. They stopped in a place to take rest and his servants were boiling water for the Emperor. All of a sudden a dry leaf of a wild plant fell on the water that was being boiled in an open pot. The water that the Emperor drank made him feel refreshed.This according to the story is the beginning of use of tea as a refreshing drink.

Tea gained its greatest popularity in China during the 16th century. The East India Company imported tea from China for the European countries. Popularity of tea in Europe was for its medicinal value and refreshing quality.

How the British discovered tea in Assam

Tea was introduced to England in the 18th Century. The Chinese Government had banned the export of tea from China when the demand for tea was at its peak. There was a hue and cry within the East India Company because to lose such a lucrative business would mean the loss of a huge nature. In search of an alternative way, the British and the Portuguese planned to cultivate tea in their own countries. Renowned botanist and Director of the Royal Botanical Garden Sir Joseph Besins of London advised the East India Company to cultivate tea in 1788. But the company did not show much enthusiasm. But few British officials of the East India Company kept their effort alive to start tea cultivation in Assam. In 1826 the commander of British force Charles Alexander Bruce who came to fight against the Burmese informed through a letter to Francis Jackins about the discovery of tea in the Singphow state. Singphow king Bisagam gave details about tea to the brother of Alexander Bruce whose name were Robert Bruce.

The stories about Robert Bruce and Charles Bruce regarding their search of tea plants and their experiences are noted in the history of Assam Tea Company.

Few important facts about history of Assam Tea

  1. In 1823 Singphow King Bisagam passed information about tea plant in Assam to Major Robert Bruce.
  2. British Tea Committee certified tea grown wildly in Assam as the real tea plant.
  3. In 1838 Charles Williamson certified that Assam tea (Camellia assamica) is superior in quality to Chinese Camellia sinensis.
  4. In 1839 January the first auction of Assam tea took place. And on 12th February that year, Assam Tea Company was formed.
  5. Chabua and other tea gardens were handed over to Assam Tea Company. Charles Alexander Bruce was appointed the first superintendent of Assam Tea Company and Maniram Dutta Barbhandar Baruah was appointed the Dewan of the company. Maniram Dewan was declared to be the first Assamese tea planter.
  6. In 1851 the first individual tea planter was Col Exis Manni.
  7. In 1912, the Tocklai Tea Research Centre was established.
  8. In 1970 the Tea Auction Centre at Guwahati was established.
  9. In 2011, tea was declared to be the official drink of Assam.