The History of Tea Drinking In India

The documented evidence according to the history of tea drinking in India dates back to 750 BC. Tea in India is generally grown in the North Eastern regions and the Nilgiri Hills. Having evolved since those early days, tea drinking in India has now come a long way. Today this nation is proud to be one of the largest tea producers in the world. Buddhist monks in India have used tea for its medicinal value since thousands of years.

According to a very interesting legend, the history of tea drinking in India began with a saintly Buddhist monk about almost 2000 years ago. It so happened that this monk who later became the founder of Zen Buddhism, decided to spend seven sleepless years contemplating the life and teachings of Buddha. While he was in the fifth year of his contemplation and prayer, he almost fell asleep. He took some leaves from a nearby bush and began chewing them. These leaves revived him and enabled him to stay awake as he chewed on them whenever he felt drowsy. Thus he was able to complete his penance for seven years. These were the leaves of the wild tea plant.

Processing tea in 1850
This engraving of 1850 after Thomas Brown shows the processing of tea from seed to final drying.
As per the history of tea drinking in India, local people used to brew and drink tea using the leaves of the wild native tea plants. Since that time, different varieties of tea have emerged; the most famous among them is the Darjeeling tea. The commercial production of tea in India was started by the British East India Company and vast tracts of land have been exclusively developed into tea estates which produce various types of tea.

In the 16th century, the people of India prepared a vegetable dish using tea leaves along with garlic and oil and the boiled tea leaves were used to prepare a drink as well. The first Tea Garden was established by the British East India Company by the end of the 19th century after the Company took over tea cultivation in Assam, a region in the North Eastern part of India.

One of the most popular snippets related to the history of tea drinking in India dates back to the 19th century when an Englishman noticed that the people of Assam drank a dark liquid which was a type of tea brewed from a local wild plant. In the year 1823, a Singpho King offered an English Army Officer tea as a medicinal drink.

Tea drinking has evolved in different ways over the years in India and differs from region to region. First thought of as the drink of the Royals, tea has now become the favorite of the common man as India leads the world in tea drinking. From the humble roadside tea stalls and the railway platforms to the boardrooms of corporate India, tea is easily available. The cup of sweet and refreshing chai available in teashops or train stations to the masala teas of North India, the variety of brews available is numerous.

According to the records, Assam tea is named after the region from where the tea comes and has revolutionized the tea drinking habits of the Indians. Most Indians drink tea with milk and sugar. Traditionally, a guest in any Indian home is welcomed with a cup of tea.