“An Account of the Manufacture of Black Tea in India” by Charles Bruce

Tea field (stock image)
Tea field (stock image)

There was a time when China was pretty much the only game in town when it came to tea. Which was okay at first for the Europeans as they gradually began to adopt this new beverage. But by the early nineteenth century, when the British had developed a marked fondness for the drink, they began to explore the possibility of growing tea in India. Among those people who were instrumental in getting British tea production in India off the ground were a pair of Scottish brothers named Robert and Charles Bruce. Read more about them in a previous article I published in these pages.

Robert Bruce died relatively early on in the drive to bring the tea industry to India, in 1824, but his brother Charles continued his efforts and in 1838 he published a short volume on the production of black tea in the Assam region of India. At about twenty pages, the work was closer in length to a pamphlet, but Bruce certainly didn’t mince words with his weighty title – An Account of the Manufacture of the Black Tea, as Now Practised at Suddeya in Upper Assam, by the Chinamen Sent Thither for that Purpose: With Some Observations on the Culture of the Plant in China, and its growth in Assam.

Bruce jumps right into things, starting with the harvest of the tea leaves and moving directly to an in-depth description of the mechanics of processing. After about six pages of this, which is probably more than the casual reader will want to know about the process, Bruce moves on to A Dialogue Between Mr. C.A. Bruce and the China Black-Tea Makers.

Said tea makers were imported from China for the purpose of jumpstarting the fledgling industry there. This portion of the text is somewhat more interesting and consists of several pages of closely spaced Q&A between Bruce and the Chinese tea makers. The rest of the book is devoted to A Few Observations on the Tea Plant of Assam. Little of which is theory, mind you. Even at this relatively early date Bruce obviously had a quite a bit of knowledge of tea planting and production in Assam and of the Assam region in general and he was quite generous with this knowledge throughout the book.

For a free electronic version of this work, look here.

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