A Short History of Tea in India

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Traditional tea is a shrub known as the Camellia plant. The Camellia sinensis plant is indigenous to China with sinensis identifying the origin as China. But did you know that there are other variations of camellia plants?

  • Chinese (small leaf) tea [C. sinensis var. sinensis]
  • Chinese Western Yunnan Assam (large leaf) tea [C. sinensis var. assamica]
  • Indian Assam (large leaf) tea [C. sinensis var. assamica]
  • Chinese Southern Yunnan Assam (large leaf) tea [C. sinensis var. assamica]


The assamica variety of tea flourishes in India. The aromatic and invigorating beverage that has transcended boundaries and captivated millions of hearts worldwide, holds a special place in the cultural fabric of India. Renowned for its rich flavors and therapeutic qualities, tea has become an integral part of daily life for countless Indians. But how did this iconic beverage find its way to the Indian subcontinent?

Ancient Beginnings

While tea has been consumed in China for thousands of years, its arrival on Indian shores is a relatively recent phenomenon. The history of tea in India can be traced back to the early 19th century when British colonialists recognized the potential of the Indian subcontinent for cultivating tea.

The East India Company and the Birth of Indian Tea

In the early 19th century, the British East India Company was facing a significant trade imbalance due to the massive imports of tea from China. Seeking a solution, the company saw an opportunity to cultivate tea within the Indian territory. In 1823, the British established the Assam Tea Company, marking the beginning of commercial tea production in India. The indigenous tea plant, Camellia sinensis var. assamica, was discovered growing wild in the Assam region, which further fueled the British ambition to cultivate tea in India.

Darjeeling: The Champagne of Teas

As tea production gained momentum, the picturesque region of Darjeeling emerged as a prominent tea-growing destination. With its high altitudes, fertile soil, and unique climatic conditions, Darjeeling proved to be an ideal location for growing high-quality tea. The first tea gardens were established in Darjeeling in the mid-19th century, and soon, the region became synonymous with the exquisite and delicate “Champagne of Teas.”

The Indian Tea Industry Takes Root

Encouraged by the success of tea cultivation in Assam and Darjeeling, the Indian tea industry began to flourish. Plantations were established in various regions across the country, including Nilgiris in South India and Dooars in West Bengal. The tea industry provided employment opportunities for a vast number of Indians and played a crucial role in shaping the socio-economic landscape of these regions.

Chai: The Heartbeat of India

While the British introduced tea to India as a luxury beverage, the true democratization of tea came with the popularization of “chai.” Chai, a unique blend of tea, milk, and spices, has become an integral part of Indian culture and social interactions. Whether enjoyed at roadside stalls, homes, or bustling markets, chai has found a place in the hearts of millions, transcending class, religion, and geographic boundaries.

The Role of India in the Global Tea Trade

Over the years, India’s tea industry has grown exponentially, cementing its position as one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of tea. With its diverse range of teas, including black, green, white, and specialty teas, India caters to the preferences of tea enthusiasts worldwide. The global popularity of Indian tea has contributed significantly to the country’s economy and its global identity.

The captivating history of tea in India is a testament to the indomitable spirit of exploration and enterprise. From its humble beginnings under British colonial rule to becoming an essential part of Indian culture and a global leader in tea production, India’s tea industry has come a long way. Today, as tea lovers around the world savor a cup of Indian tea, they are not only tasting the flavors of the leaves but also the history, tradition, and diversity that make India’s tea heritage truly unique.

American Royal Tea has an assortment of assamica teas featuring Assam black tea!