An Ancient Legend
Legend ascribes the creation of the tea plant to 'Daruma' or 'Bodhidharma' - the founder of Zen Buddhism. Centuries ago, while meditating near Nanking, in China, the saint fell sleep. On waking up, he was so angry, he punished himself by cutting off his eyelids. Where the eyelids dropped to earth a strange plant came up. Its leaves were found to give a brew that could banish sleep. And thus, the tea plant was born and the tea beverage came into being.
Three Claims To The Discovery Of Tea In India
During the travels, Major Robert Bruce struck up friendship with Bessagaum, the 'Singpho' chief in Assam, who gave him some indigenous tea plants and seeds in 1823. This incident is thought of as the discovery of tea in India. But Robert's brother, Charles Bruce who was working for the East India Company, regarded himself as "the man of destiny who first penetrated the forests and visited the tea tracts in British Sudiya". This claim he stoutly maintained. However, in 1841, he was challenged by Lt. Charlton, who had been serving in Assam. Lt. Charlton claimed that it was he who had first sent tea plants to the agricultural & Horticultural society as long back as 1831.
The First Indian Planter
Dewan Maniram Dutta Borbhandar Barua, on seeing the specimen plant in Robert Bruce's hands, remarked, "We have the plant growing in our jungles. " He was later appointed by the Assam tea company, which he left to run his own garden.
First Tea Company In The World
The world's first tea company - The Assam Company was formed on 12th February 1839. Dwarakanath Tagore, grandfather of noble laureate Rabindranath Tagore, was one of its directors.
On board a sailing ship name 'Calcutta', a dozen precious chests of India's very own tea sailed for Britain in 1838. This was the first such sojourn, and the consignment arrived in London on 23rd January 1839.
The Board of Directors of the East India Company wrote to the Government of India "We have received favourable reports regarding it from the most respectable brokers and tea dealer and an offer is made of a contract for five hundred or a thousand chests." This was the first export contract in the history of Indian tea.
On 10th January 1839, the first consignment of Indian tea from Assam consisting of 8 chests was put for auction at the commercial rooms in Mincing Lane. The lots were 3 of Assam 'Souchong' and 5 of Assam 'Pekoe'. For which there were 60 bids, was knocked down at the extraordinary price of 34 shillings per pound and all the lots were bought by one Captain Pidding.
The Strong And The Wild
Assam is a rich, green land of rolling plains and dense forests. Through which the mighty river Brahmaputra charts its majestic course. A region of innumerable forests and sanctuaries, where elephants and one-horned Rhinos roam sharing the habitat with swamp deer, wild buffaloes and tigers.
On either side of the river, throughout the Brahmaputra valley, lie more than 2,30,000 hectares of lush green tea gardens. This region has rich alluvial soil and receives 200-300cm of rain throughout the year. Not only in Brahmaputra valley tea grows in abundance but in Barak valley also, in the southern region of Assam. The total production of tea in Assam is around 400 million kg. per annum.
Since long columns have been written on the experiments of tea and culture. Tea is, now, no longer a haunting memory of the 19th century British India, rather it has become one of the most lucrative enterprises in the modern history. With the discovery of tea in Assam, India sets out for a new economic era.
Assam and Tea, both are inseparable. Probably except Assam, nowhere else in the world tea grows in such abundance. It is one of the largest tea producing area in world and produces more than 50% of India's total production. Assam hence, contributes a handsome amount of foreign exchange to our national economy. The capital city Guwahati is proud of having one of the largest Tea Auction Centres in the world.
Assam tea is renowned for its rich full-bodied, bright liquor. For those who favour a strong cup of tea, Assam is the answer. One's visit to Assam is an experience of a different kind during the celebration of Assam's Tea Festival, from 26th to 28th December. It is a home away from home. No one can bargain either its comfort or its pleasure.