Tea is the dried leaf of a bush. It contains theine and when added to boiling water along with sugar and milk, it gives a very cheap and stimulating drink. Thus it is the most important beverage crop of India.
Tea bush is supposed to be indigenous to China but it was reported by Major Robert Bruce in 1823 that indigenous tea bushes grew wild on the hill slopes of upper Assam. In the year 1840, tea seeds were imported from China and commercial tea plantations were set up in the Brahmaputra valley.
To begin with, tea plantations were confined to Upper Assam only but later on, new areas such as lower Assam and Darjeeling were also opened up to tea plantations and by 1859, there were 30 tea plantations in Assam alone. Later on, tea plantations were also set up in Nilgiri Hills of South India, Tarai along the foothills of the Himalayas and in some places in Himachal Pradesh.
Conditions of Growth:
Tea bush is a tropical and sub-tropical plant and thrives well in hot and humid climate. There is a very close relation between climate, the yield and the quality of tea. The ideal temperature for its growth is 20°-30°C and temperatures above 35°C and below 10°C are harmful for the bush.
It requires 150-300 cm annual rainfall which should be well distributed throughout the year. While prolonged dry spell is harmful for tea, high humidity, heavy dew and morning fog favour rapid development of young leaves. Alternate waves of warm and cool winds are very helpful for tea leaves. Tea is a shade-loving plant and develops more vigorously when planted along with shady trees.
Method of Cultivation:
Tea gardens are set up on the cleared hill slopes where shade trees are planted in advance. Seeds are sown in the germination beds and the saplings transplanted to the garden. The garden is regularly hoed and weeded so that tea bush grows without any hindrance. Use of manures and fertilizers is a common practice in the gardens. Oil cakes and green manures are widely used.
Tea cultivation does not have long tradition in India as it started in the middle of nineteenth century only, when first tea plantations were established in Assam. However, tea cultivation has shown steady progress right from the beginning. At the time of Independence, tea gardens covered 3,011 lakh hectares producing 2.61 lakh tonnes of tea. The progress of tea cultivation in India from 1960-61 to 2003- 04 is shown in Table 24.24.
Tea cultivation in India is highly concentrated in a few selected pockets. Following three areas of tea cultivation are identified according to their importance as tea producers and their location.