Tea - Assam
In 1815 it was noticed that the people of Assam drank a tea from locally growing plants, but identification of these as tea plants proved inconclusive. In 1823, a Major Robert Bruce had also learnt of the existence of tea in Assam and sent samples to the East India Company's Botanic Gardens at Calcutta, who declined to confirm that the samples were tea. Lieutenant Charlton, who was on service in Assam in 1831, sent plants to the Agricultural and Horticultural Society in Calcutta with the observation that the leaves were drunk as an infusion in Assam, and that they tasted of Chinese tea when dried. Charlton's plants were also denied official recognition.
|Image: Photograph by British photographer Samuel Bourne (1834 -1912) of the Tea Gardens at Darjeeling in Bengal. The tea growing belt of Terai, Darjeeling, is a narrow strip of land lying below the Himalayan foothills extending up to Bihar border. The Terai tea gardens were established in 1862.|
Official recognitionIt was not until Christmas Eve of 1834, when Charles Alexander Bruce, Robert Bruce's brother, sent samples to Calcutta, that the true identity of the plant was finally confirmed to be tea, or more accurately, Assam tea. It is now known botanically as Camellia sinensis var. assamica. Subsequently there was huge controversy between Charlton and Charles Alexander Bruce as to which of them was the first to 'discover' tea in India.
It was found that a tea could be manufactured from Assam tea which was in some ways superior to China tea. Tea planting became popular and there was great demand for land and seed. Thus seed gardens were established with whatever seed was available in many cases. Some were pure China, some pure Assam and some were deliberately interplanted with both types. Thus Indian hybrid tea was formed, which has great variability and vigour. This was undoubtedly the most important event in the evolution of the commercial tea plant.