Once upon a time nearly all of the world’s tea was grown in China and most , if not all, of it was consumed there. Several hundred years ago tea began to turn up in Europe, most notably in England, where it eventually became so popular that the British decided that they didn’t want to be at the mercy of Chinese producers anymore.
The story of how the British cracked the closely guarded secrets of the Chinese tea industry is an intriguing one, so much so that an entire book has been devoted to telling it. Anyone interested in the tale of how this came to pass should refer to Sarah Rose’s For All the Tea in China: How England Stole the World’s Favorite Drink and Changed History.
Some time during the 1820s the British began to grow tea in India. Their efforts did not bear much fruit at first but by the end of the nineteenth century India was rivaling, if not surpassing, China as a hotbed of tea production. Nowadays China has the lead again, but India is not so far behind.
Tea is grown in India, for the most part, in three regions – Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri. Assam was the first region where the British succeeded in growing tea, though it may have been growing in the wild there prior to this effort. Assam, a state located in the northeast corner of India, is one of the world’s largest tea growing regions and is best known for turning out considerable qualities of a robust black tea that’s suitable for daily drinking but not particularly distinguished.
The tea that comes from Darjeeling is much more noteworthy but it is produced in quantities that pale next to the amounts that are turned out in Assam. The mostly black tea grown in Darjeeling is lighter and more aromatic and is much coveted by tea lovers, so much so that some unscrupulous vendors have taken to counterfeiting it.
Black tea is also the principal output of India’s third main growing region – Nilgiri. Located in southern India, the tea grown here is probably the least well-known of these three. For more on Nilgiri tea start with this overview.
Make sure to check out William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks!