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Is tea native to India?

Say it loud and proud. India is the second largest producer of tea in the world. While a large part of this tea is exported, the majority of it is consumed right here. It’s not an exaggeration to proclaim that tea has become an obsession if not an addiction in India. While most people are familiar with the historical part that the British played in tea promotion in the country, not everyone is aware that the Camellia Sinensis plant which produces tea is native to India. The misconception is that the tea plant was brought here via the silk route or first arrived from China.

After the British transported seedlings here from China, it was discovered that an Assamic variety of the tea plant was growing in the Indian wilderness all along. Certain tribes in India used this tea as a stimulant for medicinal purposes, by chewing it or as infusion and not for the pleasure of drinking. Unlike today where Indian tea such as the famous Masala Chai is part of the staple and consumed for its delicious taste.

With the help of Wardian cases 80,000 seeds from China were germinated in the Calcutta Botanical gardens and were distributed to the foothills of the Himalayas, South India and Assam. Initially, the Chinese tea plant proved unsuccessful in cultivation and so the focus switched to the indigenous Assamic variety. The British set up the first tea plantation in Assam in 1837 and by 1840 the Indian tea industry started to expand. It would take over a decade to match the quality of the Chinese tea.

It has been argued whether the tea found in India is in fact indigenous to Assam or from China. In 1958 the Botanist, Robert Sealy in a study presented some new findings at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew. He distinguished between Camellia Sinesis var. Sinesis which is considered indigenous to China and grows up to 19 feet and the Camellia Sinesis var. Assamica which is considered indigenous to Assam and grows up to fifty-six feet high.

So there you have it. Tea is native to India. Regions such as Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri have unique tea and these varieties are protected by India’s Geographical Indication (GI) status. These one origin teas are referred to as ‘terroir’ and are highly sought after globally. This includes our Lavender white tea which is sourced from Darjeeling. To order our single origin gourmet teas, click here.

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