Indian Tea Industry – An Overview
India is currently:
- The largest consumer of tea in the world
- The second-largest producer of tea in the world
- The fourth-largest exporter of tea in the world
Tea serving is ubiquitous across India – from roadside tea stalls to corporate boardrooms and five-star hotels. A more recent trend is the growing obsession for exquisite tea varieties and blends – which promises tremendous opportunities for both new and existing players on the market.
Tea Cultivation in India
Tea cafes seem to be the new flavor of India. They are opening up at a steady pace throughout the country – enticing consumers to try different varieties of Indian tea, like black tea, green tea, masala tea, and take their tea drinking experience to new levels.
Indian tea lovers are spoilt for choice today – with an exciting range of different-flavored tea concoctions offered by tea cafes, ranging from upmarket tea lounges to down-to-earth chai shops around the street.
Several varieties of Indian tea have achieved global acclaim due to their highly sought-after characteristics – that no other tea anywhere in the world can replicate.
History of Tea in India
Tea production in India was virtually non-existent until the late 17th century. A series of efforts were undertaken by the British to understand the art and science of tea cultivation. While it took much time and effort, the results of their experiments in Darjeeling and Assam – now two of the largest growing regions of Indian tea – greatly surpassed their expectations.
Tea began its modern saga in the early 18th century when the British Raj started to set up tea plantations in India, primarily for its export. An aggressive campaign by the India Tea Company promoted the provision of ‘tea breaks’ for workers in an attempt to increase domestic tea sales.
With the increase in overall tea sales came an increase in the addition of spices to the mix by chai-walas (tea vendors), who diluted the tea to keep costs down. Masala chai quickly became the preferred beverage India.
Interestingly, what makes these modern-day ‘Chai tapris’ special is their rootedness in old ways and traditions. They might have high-end, Wi-Fi enabled, air-conditioned interiors for hip youngsters, but they offer their teas in clay pots better known as ‘Kulhars’ and cutting glasses along with quirky cutlery. They may offer cupcakes and pies, but their sell-outs are always undoubtedly those samosas and bun-masks.
Chai Tea Region of India
The Indian tea estates attract the lovers of tea and nature alike, and so, the opportunity to visit one, always promises to be memorable. There are thousands of tea estates employing millions of tea workers across the tea-producing regions in the country – Assam, Darjeeling, Nilgiri, Munnar, Sikkim, Kangra, Dooars Terai, and many more.
Interestingly, the two most popular varieties of Indian chai tea in the world originate from two very diverse tea regions of India – the dizzying heights of Darjeeling and the tropical plains of Assam – epitomizing the sheer diversity of India.
Several enterprising planters took over, and tea cultivation rapidly increased across the foothills of the Himalayas and the hills of South India (now the home for Nilgiri tea). Over time, knowledge and application of cultivation practices passed from generation to generation.
The rich legacy that the Indian tea industry stands on today is unparalleled anywhere in the world, just like the natural conditions in tea growing areas that are particularly favorable to the tea plant.
The tea plant has particular requirements in terms of soil and climatic conditions. Indian tea is primarily cultivated in the hills of North-eastern and Southern states.
Some of the most exquisite and globally acclaimed varieties of Indian tea hail from plantations in Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiris, although several types of Indian tea, are also grown across other Indian states as well. Although tea drinking in India emerged in the previous century, it has caught on rapidly.