The Indian tea industry was not yet a century old, in 1908, when Claud Bald published (the second edition of) Indian Tea: Its Culture and Manufacture, but it was doing quite nicely for itself. The first forays to assess the Assam region for its tea growing potential didn’t really get rolling until about eighty years prior to that and it was at least another decade before production actually got underway.
Since the subtitle points out that this is “a Text Book on the Cultivation and Manufacture of Tea” the reader shouldn’t really be surprised if this volume can veer toward being a bit dry, in spots. Unless you’re really interested in the nitty gritty of running an Indian tea estate as of about a century ago, you could safely skip or skim though the first 19 chapters.
Near the end of the book, after chapters on pruning, manuring and the ever riveting tea blights, Bald presents a few chapters that might be of more interest to the casual reader. Chapter 21 is an interesting albeit quite practical look at green tea. As the author notes, in the early days of the Indian tea industry green and black teas were both rather common, but production of the former gradually tapered off, at least for the most part. While a few producers started making green tea again in the years immediately prior to Bald’s book being published, to this day green tea makes up a small part of India’s output.
Also of interest is a chapter that discusses India’s efforts to move into producing the brick tea that was so popular in Tibet at the time. The chapter on Accounts, as the name suggests, takes a look at the actual nuts and bolts of running a tea estate from a financial standpoint. The final chapter, The Cooly, might not win any awards for political correctness, but if you follow the news coming out of India’s tea estates even to this day it’s apparent that labor troubles there are not just an issue for the history books.
Mix in a selection of historical photos and a number of interesting advertisements for tea processing machinery and other items and it adds up to a volume, that while it’s probably not suitable for beach reading, is worth a look.
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