February 1, 2023 12:18 pm


The history of 'national drink of India'

During independence, chai became a symbol of the swadeshi movement. Britishers rapidly grew tea as the trading beverage with other countries.

History of tea

The history of ‘national drink of India

Indian gossip and meetings are incomplete without a cup of tea. From being a status symbol in gatherings termed as ‘high tea’ to being available at every railway station, chai is not just a beverage but an emotion.

To Britishers, India was an asset. They tried their best to explore India and utilize the raw materials and exploit people to achieve their motive.

Cutting chai, which is a golden beverage, gives an idea that each Indian heart pumps tea into the nerves.

But why did China refuse the East India Company to trade tea?

Tea became an addictive drink to the people in Britain, but soon they lost their silvers which they used to trade in exchange with the tea produced in China.

Britishers were very intelligent in a way, that’s how they moved the world. They started trading opium which was cultivated in Bengal and exported it to china.

Slowly the Chinese people found this to be an addiction and their necessity, in the exchange of opium, tea was then traded to India.

The world was unaware about the temperature conditions needed for cultivating tea. China knew all about it but did not allow anyone to visit their cultivation area in order to safeguard their business interests. Thus the Chinese were doing an excellent tea trade with Britain and Europe as whole.

How was tea introduced in India?

In 1848 a Scottish botanist Robert Fortune went to China disguised as a Chinese and came back to India with all the methods that the Chinese used to cultivate the tea, and also returned with various varieties of tea.

Not only did he bring the samples along, but also brought 80 tea specialists from China. After that they experimented with these methods in Assam and Darjeeling.

The Assam soil and temperature did not support the Chinese tea buds, but the Darjeeling temperature did favor tea cultivation.

In 1839 the first tea company was established by the name of the Assam Tea Company at Chabua town in Assam, although Robert Bruce started to experiment since 1823 but commercially started this company in 1839.

The Tea Cess Bill 1903

This bill was passed by Lord Curzon in 1903 in which tax was to be paid by people on buying tea and levying a cess on tea was introduced.

This tax money was used for more production and cultivation of tea. The main motive was to fulfil the necessity of Britain because China had stopped trade with Britain due to latter’s unfriendly trading ways.

There was an uproar in people against this policy, as tea was not part of their daily routine.

In the 1920s and 1930s London and the US started looking upon India to provide them tea due to the crash in their economies. This was the time when the poor class started getting jobs in different parts of India.

Calcutta was the focused city of the colonials, most of the tea consumption was done in Bengal, be it upper class or the lower class people.

Gradually Calcutta became the world’s largest tea port and the second largest tea producer in the whole world. After this bill a Tea Act was passed in 1953

Role of Chai during the freedom struggle movement

Before 1947, tea became popular and became a substitute for meals. The gatherings were held to take a sip of tea and carry the discussions.

During independence, chai became a symbol of the swadeshi movement. Britishers rapidly grew tea as the trading beverage with other countries.

Tea was a cheap beverage, so during colonial rule when there was hunger and poverty tea worked as a medicine which energized people.

Mahatma Gandhi’s Anti-tea movement

The journey of tea from getting criticized to becoming the national drink of India must have been tough right?

In a book by Mahatma Gandhi, ‘A Key To Health’ Gandhi said that the tannin which is present in tea was harmful for tea consumers, he declared tea an intoxicant substance.

The astringents present in tea exploited the digestive system and killed hunger which led to many health problems.

The moment when India was consuming and exporting more than half of its tea, Mahatma Gandhi started the Anti- tea movement although he himself had tea on a regular basis.

But soon Gandhiji adopted veganism and left consuming milk tea, replaced it with almond milk and had liquor tea.

The fixed tea budget in the Indian households

Each Indian household has separate space occupied for tea, the same budget does not change ever from the ration.

Indians have a fixed routine of bed tea , according to the National Tea Board the domestic consumption of tea is 80%.

The tea consumption rate is highest in Northern India, where the consumption rate is 32% and the western regions consume around 31% of tea.

Eastern India is said to have the lowest consumption of tea by 19% while the South which provides spices to India consumes 18% of the tea.

However 88% of people are potential tea drinkers in every Indian households.

Ritika Chandola
Ritika Chandola

"The wings I have, I write with them"
A media practitioner, a seeker, listener, learner, researcher, and a writer.

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