“Tea in Assam,” by Samuel Baildon

If pressed to choose a favorite type of tea, I wouldn’t have a problem. I’d go with any one of a number of single-estate black varieties from Assam, a state in northeastern India. Though it’s important to note that much of the tea grown in Assam, the world’s single largest growing region, is not necessarily of exceptional quality.

"Tea in Assam" by Samuel Baildon
“Tea in Assam” by Samuel Baildon

A relative newcomer to the business of tea production, Assam had only been growing the stuff for about a half century when Samuel Baildon published Tea in Assam: A Pamphlet on the Origin, Culture, and Manufacture of Tea in Assam, which first appeared in 1877. As is the case with so many other authors of moldy, oldy books about tea, there’s not a lot of information available about Baildon. Aside from the fact that he was apparently a part of the tea industry in Assam and that, in 1882, he published a similar book, The Tea Industry in India, a Review of Finance and Labour, and a Guide for Capitalists and Assistants.

Depending on your definition of pamphlet, Tea in Assam is perhaps a little more ambitious than this term suggests. It totals about 65 pages and kicks off with a look at the origins and early history of the tea trade in Assam. As Baildon notes, it was not an easy life for planters at the time and presumably was even much less so for their workers.

The author goes on to give a brief primer on the tea plants themselves, followed by some fairly extensive thoughts on where and how to plant a tea garden. He also touches on such related topics for anyone trying to build a tea garden from scratch as clearing timber, raising buildings and building roads. Harvesting, and specifically proper methods for actually plucking the tea leaves, comes in for a close look and Baildon even includes diagrams of the tea leaves to clarify his detailed advice on the topic. He goes on to discuss processing methods, with a section on machinery for processing leaves, something that was a relatively new innovation in Assam at the time.

From here it’s onto a discussion of the problems of creating and maintaining an effective labor force and the end of the book/pamphlet proper. On a somewhat related note is an informative appendix called Rural Life Amongst the Assamese. All in all it’s a rather interesting look at a world most tea drinkers of today or yesteryear could barely have imagined.

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