Darjeeling Diary – The Birth of Darjeeling Tea

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The copyrighted logo of Darjeeling Tea

Darjeeling came into British map in the year 1835 (Read the History of the Hill City of Darjeeling) but soon after that, it started attracting British population. A major boost to the city’s population came when, in 1841, Archibald Campbell successfully planted a few Chinese tea seeds he brought from Mussourie. The tea grew well and Campbell also encouraged fellow Britons to start planting tea seeds. Within a decade, the British East India Company have understood that they have hit the jackpot and massive land acquisition took place. Almost all land around the city of Darjeeling was under tea plantation which would eventually start yielding around 1850. They also experimented with coffee seeds brought from the Deccan but that was unsuccessful. With tea plantation seeing a great result, Hectares after hectares of hill land was converted into tea estates.

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It was a big relief for the British. Almost entire British population, at that time, was addicted to tea which was totally under Chinese control. Whatever tea, at that time, was produced in the world – at least commercially – was produced in China and they exploited the situation by increasing price and tax of tea. A lot of revenue the British Government earned was spent in importing tea from China. British started to explore the possibility of tea plantation in the hill cities of lower Himalaya and western ghats and wherever there was a success they started expanding plantation. The Government, understanding the uniqueness and amazing taste of Darjeeling Tea, sponsored tea nursery near the city.

It was true that, commercially, tea was produced in Assam in the mid-1830s but the quality of that tea was not up to the mark of its closest rival – the Chinese tea. When the British tasted the tea of Darjeeling, they were on cloud nine – It was going to be a life savour for the company whose profit went on reducing since the Chinese imposed stringent tax rules on tea.

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The first commercial Tea estate in Darjeeling was opened at Tukvar, Aloobari and Steinthal (1852) closely followed by Wilson Tea Estate (1854) by David Wilson & Dhooteria Tea Estate (1859) by Dr Borgham.  Within a few years, the economy of the region was totally dependent on Tea Plantation. The rapid increase in the plantation called for increasing demand for manpower which was not available.

Till 1859, there was no factory and the tea was processed in an improper way giving poor results. So, the company sent a research team to China who returned with a few experts. From them, the British learned the method of plucking tea leaves and the process of producing tea from that. It was like a revolution to the tea industry in India and soon, Darjeeling Tea became British East India Company’s most previous export and brought them the highest revenue.

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Through the Treaty of Titalia, the entire region was leased to the British East India Company by the Rajah of Sikkim and naturally, all the lands were under the control of the company. They were given on a sublease to wealthy investors for planting tea which was a massively profitable business then. Priority was given to the English citizens but a few wealthy Indians also managed to own tea estates. G.C. Banerjee of Makaibari Tea Estate or B.P. Choudhury of Mohurgaon Tea Estate were notable among them.

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