ASSAM TEA GARDEN – Welcome to the ‘Tea Country’!

Assam‘s tea industry is about 172 years old. This sector occupies a very important place in the national economy and contributes greatly to it. In 1823, Robert Bruce discovered tea plants growing wild in the upper Brahmaputra valley. In the erstwhile Lakhimpur district, the Government started a tea garden in 1833.

After the fine quality tea from this garden arrived in London in 1938, the commercial circle of the city became interested in tea plantations in Assam and in 1839, a company named the Assam Company was established to take over the experimental holdings of the East India Company‘s Administration over tea gardens in Assam. It was the first company in India to produce commercial tea and was the direct successor to the East India Company.

A site was cleared from the jungle at Nazira which became and remained as the headquarters of this company until it was shifted to Calcutta in 1965. The official incorporation of this Company was affected in 1845. This company, however, did not attain much prosperity during the first ten years of its existence.

By about 1852, under the management of George Williamson, one of the great pioneers in tea garden management, its condition began to improve, and its success made the prospect of the industry so promising and attractive that speculators eagerly rushed to it.

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In 1859, the second important tea company, the Jorhat Tea Company was formed. To encourage tea plantation in the province, the Government also made liberal provisions for the settlement of the waste land for tea cultivation. In the early sixties, many provisions of the former waste Land Settlement Rules were waived. Between 1860 and 1865, the industry was the object of wild speculation. Then came the collapse in 1866, when all tea properties depreciated, and all the babble concerns burst. So severe was the situation that a Government Commission of Enquiry had to be appointed. It reported that the industry was basically sound, and by 1870-71 public confidence was restored and development continued sounder basis.

In 1879, further slump occurred following the boom in prices due to a false rumour of shortage of exports from China. Though condition improved after three years, another slump occurred for a period between 1893 and 1906 because of over-production. The industry did not recapture its expansion mood again in the present century. On the other hand, great improvements have been made in the yield per acre under tea, in the grouping of gardens under a limited number of companies, in the progressive mechanisation and rationalisation of production and in increasing their efficiency in regard to the productivity of labour.

In 1911, the Toklai Research Station was established near Jorhat with a view to carrying on research on cultivation and manufacture of tea. This Research Station has been very useful in disseminating knowledge for the increase of yield for the industry. The tea industry faced another crisis during the First World War due mainly to prices. At the suggestion of the Indian Tea Association, the tea gardens in Assam stopped plucking on 15th November, 1923 to decrease the output to improve the price structure.

Up to 1927 an era of prosperity followed, during which modernization of factories and production techniques made rapid strides. The industry again faced an acute crisis during the early thirties. This crisis was successfully averted by enacting the Indian Tea Control Act,1933, and instituting an International Tea Committee and Indian Tea Licensing Committee.

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During the World War II, the industry again passed through a boom period and after 1951 it reached an unprecedented prosperity. Then followed a severe crisis in 1952 when prices of tea crashed to an extent often below the cost of production. Among the manifold causes suggested as being responsible for the recession in tea.

The most potent ones seemed to be over production in competing countries, a glut in medium and indifferent grades of tea which could not attract a ready market owing to the cessation of the bulk purchase system in the United Kingdom, and the impact of the general downward trend in the commodity prices during the post-Korean slum of late 1951 and early 1952. Conditions improved considerably in the following year and since then the tea industry has been enjoying a satisfactory position, although it faced some difficulty due to severe drought in 1960.

The Opening of Tea Auction Centre at Guwahati on 25th September, 1970, Augurs a new era for the tea industry of Assam. Marketing of tea has always been a problem for the products of this region. Previously the Tea Auction Centre at Calcutta was the only center of sale for Assam Tea.

The imposition of West Bengal Entry Tax on Assam Tea, transport bottlenecks and many more difficulties involved in arranging the sale at Calcutta Auction center, necessitated the opening of the Tea Auction Centre in Assam which produces the bulk of it. Both in acreage and output the tea industry in Assam expanded very rapidly up to the 1920’s. But the increase of acreage slowed down considerably thereafter, though output continued to increase rapidly owing to a high yield per acre.

The Toklai Experimental Station has been helping the tea estates to increase their yields by improved techniques and cultivation and by control of diseases and pests affecting the plants. The coarser plucking, since the Second World war, has also contributed greatly to the higher yield per acre.

Only about one quarter of the total area of the tea estates is planted with tea. Even admitting that some portion of the garden land had been utilised or reserved for other purposes, eg., for factories, quarters for employees, future expansion, forests, etc., and that some portion is unsuitable for plantation or other cultivation, large tracts or waste land are still available in the tea estates. Some portion of this waste land might be devoted to cultivation of other crops like paddy, wheat, cotton, hemp and medicinal herbs.

Assam is the pride of India when it comes to tea production as it alone produces more than 50% of the tea in the country. Today the annual production of tea in Assam is 400 million kg which is such a big figure. Tea is something the Assamese can’t live without.

Every morning and evening they relish a cup of tea to refresh themselves. Traditionally the tea is taken in bell metal bowl called ‘Banbati‘. Assam Tourism also hosts an annual ‘Tea Festival’ in the month of November. In this festival you can taste different types of tea under one roof. The venue for the festival is ‘Guwahati Tea Auction Centre’, Guwahati. Meander through the fresh and lush green tea gardens, watch the art of plucking tea leaves and savour a cup of one of the finest teas in the world.

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Dibrugarh town produces maximum tea not only in the whole of Assam but in India too. Brahmaputra valley, Barak valley and southern Assam produce tea in plenty. Head for Toklia Tea Research Station if you wish to know the details of processing of tea or any other information related to tea. The station is located near Jorhat town.

Now, the Assam Tea has its international reputation and commands significant share in the world Tea Market. The total area under tea cultivation in Assam is accounting for more than half of the country’s total area under tea. Assam alone produces more than half of India’s tea production. The estimated annual average production of tea in Assam is about 630- 700 million kg.

Assam Tea Gardens produce one of the most widely consumed beverages called tea in plenty. Assam is famous the world over for manufacturing the tea which is known for its texture, flavour, aroma and colour. Sprawling over hundreds of acres of land, the tea gardens of Assam are playing a significant role in its economy. Assam is the world’s second commercial tea producing centre after China.

Assam is the black tea which derived its name from the name of the area of its production, Assam. The state also produces green and white tea but in smaller quantity to the black one. Lowlands are the perfect places in Assam for growing tea.

Assam tea finds mention in the 10th century CE Sanskrit medical text from Assam called ‘Nidana‘. Earlier when tea was not produced for commercial purpose in Assam, the local people used to chew tea leaves without processing them.

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