The history of tea is as fascinating as the history of mankind. Some believe that tea was first ‘discovered’ some 4000 years ago in China when a king, who was sleeping under a tree had kept his hot cup of water, right next to him, to be taken when he woke up. The story goes that some leaves of the tree, under which he was sleeping, fell on the hot boiling water. When the king woke up he found the leaves floating on the water, the colour changed and a beautiful aroma coming out of it. He took a sip to see what that aroma tasted like and he was amazed. He fell in love with the brew! The rest, as they say is history.
While this is a very convincing story about the invention of tea as a beverage from China, many a tea historians are now saying that tea was also very popular in India around the same time. The Indian tea, however, were more herb based with lots of premium spices which were brewed together for a fine pix of delicate aroma, excellent flavour and requisite health benefits. The tea, those days in India, were truly the drinks of the royalty. And saffron, cardamom and basil were some of our choices spices and herbs.
However, credit should be given to the British who made this Asian drink a truly global beverage. Such was their love for tea that when they couldn’t get tea from China, they picked up some Chinese Tea Plants (Camellia Sinesis) and planted them in high altitude Himalayas in the Darjeeling. Slowly tea cultivation moved to other parts of India like Assam, Nilgiris, Himachal and neighbouring country like Sri Lanka; and in no time, tea became one of the most profitable cash crops for the British empire from India.
The Indian citizens, however, took time to get used to the British tea, and it was not until middle of 20th entury that Indians, mainly the elite class Bengalis, took to teas as a regular beverage. Until then Indians were still having their herbal teas mixed and brewed in their homes.
The British, unlike the French, love to have their tea with a hint of milk and a dash of sugar. India converted to milk tea; and perhaps, due to the love and faith that Indians have on milk and its health attributes, it slowly became a cooked, boiled tea in milk and sugar, rather than the brewed tea that the British sip.
This cooked tea that we drink everyday at home, and which we lovingly call, the Chai, or the Kadak Chai, is good for your morning bowel movement perhaps, but it kills all the goodness of tea. Chai, after all is a concoction of milk, water, sugar with pinch of dusty tea. And it’s sad that while we produce some of the best and most premium whole teas in the world, we end up drinking the tea that are neither good for our health, nor are they premium. Many problems like indigestion, bloated stomach, laziness, blood sugar, etc comes from this milk tea with sugar.
The time has come for us to switch over to the healthy teas that are brewed correctly, and take pride of the finest teas that we produce in India that the world die for.