Tea Emporium

Darjeeling Tea History

Tea is considered a typical British drink, but the fact is that tea history dates back to ancient China, almost 5,000 years ago. In early 1823, explorers had discovered indigenous tea plants growing in Assam. Northern India became a promising location for tea cultivation because of its high altitude and climate. Before, Indians became experts on growing tea plants but lacked the knowledge of tea processing. Credit goes to Robert Fortune, a Scottish botanist, for spying on China’s ancient sacred tea processing techniques and returning to India with knowledge, equipment, and a small team of experienced Chinese growers.

With the end of the East India Company, the British government took over direct control of India in 1858. A new administration was keen to promote the tea industry, cultivation grew and extended to regions beyond Assam. It was a great success.

In 1841 Camellia sinensis was first planted in the Darjeeling area by Dr. Campbell (civil surgeon). As an experiment, he sowed a few seeds from China stock around his bungalow at Beechwood, Darjeeling, 7000ft above sea level. While the initial plantings succeeded, Dr. Campbell moved to Lebong and planted a new batch of both varieties (Sinensis and Assamica).

Tukvar, Steinthal, and Alubari were the first three Company experimental tea gardens having 2,000 tea plants. In 1852, all the tea estates used seeds from the government nurseries. Darjeeling was used as a hill resort by the army and the affluent people since it was a sparsely populated hamlet. The tea business is a labour-intensive enterprise, requires several people to plant, tend, pluck and produce. There were job opportunities for the local people of Darjeeling and people across the border of Nepal.

Darjeeling Tea Gardens

In 1856 first commercial tea gardens were established. By 1866, there were 39 tea gardens in Darjeeling, producing a total crop of 21000 kilograms of tea. The number of tea gardens increased to 56 in 1870, roughly producing 71000 kilograms of tea harvested from 4400 hectares. By now tea venture was a profitable venture. Presently Darjeeling has 86 tea gardens that harvest approximately 10 million kgs of tea annually. And today, Darjeeling produces the world’s best aromatic teas.

Tea is grown in Darjeeling from elevations of 100 mts.(300ft) to 2000mts (6000ft) from sea level. Some 6000 shoots of tea leaves and a bud from these bushes make nearly ½ kg, whereas light leaf Assam can produce the same from 3000 shoots. All Darjeeling teas are hand-plucked.

Traditionally Darjeeling produces Black tea, now days nearly 70% of the tea gardens have also started harvesting Organic teas, which means they are grown using natural materials (without artificial chemicals or fertilizers). Teas are further strictly checked and get certified as “Organic Tea” by world-renowned institutes like IMO (Switzerland), Demeter`s certification (Germany), India Organics, USDA, etc.