History of Darjeeling Tea


Tea bushes carpeting Darjeeling hillside
Tea bushes carpeting Darjeeling hillside

Say Darjeeling, and your listener is bound to reply tea. The association is well deserved. Darjeeling produces the world's most aromatic variety of tea. The unusual mixture of soil, altitude, sunshine, rainfall and the character of the people help Darjeeling produce the most fragrant of teas. Thus, good Darjeeling tea is indeed the champagne of teas.

It was around 1834 when Lord William Bentinck appointed a committee "to consider the question of importing seeds and plants from China; to decide upon the most favourable localities for growing them..." Around 1835 seedlings and tea seeds were distributed to various parts of India, mostly in the hilly regions of the country.

Meanwhile, tea seeds were introduced in Darjeeling and an experimental nursery was started in Lebong (near Darjeeling town) which was found to be very encouraging. This success encouraged prospective tea growers to procure land. The first tea gardens to be started in Darjeeling were Makaibari (near Kurseong town) and Alubari (near Darjeeling town). Soon after, Tukvar, Moondakothi, Dooteriah, Margaret's Hope were started.

Old picture of tea plucking
An old picture of tea plucking in Darjeeling

The local people soon learnt the trade and continued to work in most of the factories. Some Europeans like Dr. Grant, The Barnes Brother, Capt. Masson, Capt. Samler, Mr. Smith. Dr. Brougham, Mr. Martin, Mr. James White, Mr. George Christison as well as a local resident Mr. Bhagatbir Rai were some of the pioneers of Darjeeling tea, planting and manufacturing tea in different parts of Darjeeling. By 1866 Darjeeling had 39 tea estates covering about 405 hectares.

Mr. W. O'Brien Ansell, a very competent engineer, further helped the growth of the tea industry in Darjeeling by using the first power driven tea roller and tea sorters. He was also the first engineer to survey a hydro-electric scheme for the electrification of Darjeeling town and he installed turbines on many tea estates of the Darjeeling. By 1872 this completely revolutionised tea manufacture.

Tea Plucking

After India's independence in 1947, many of the British owners, who controlled about 90% of the plantations in Darjeeling hills, started to dispose their properties. By 1956 a large number of Tea estate's ownership changed hands. It was very difficult for inexperienced young Indian planters and fierce competition in tea auctions demanded improvement in standards of tea industry. The Darjeeling tea industry, however, owes a good deal to few European planters like Mr. C.W. Emmett and Mr. T.J. Hardingham who stayed back and helped Darjeeling tea.

By the 1960s a lot of replanting was done. By 1966 Tea Research Association had opened the Clonal Proving Station, making clones of selected plants for selective replantation.

Presently the Darjeeling tea industry is going through a very hard time. The past few years have seen the disappointing decline due to financial and administrative problems with the result a few tea gardens having to close down. Recently among these were Peshok Tea Estate, which you may still find vividly described in many Tourist Guide books of Darjeeling.

Copyright 2000  Photos : Das Studio, Darjeeling
2000  Old Photos : From the collection Das Studio, Darjeeling
Copyright 2000 : darjnet.com, Darjeeling
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