Nowadays India takes a back seat in tea production to the nation where the whole tea thing got its start – China. But India can take solace in knowing that the Assam region, in the northeast area of the country, is the single largest growing region in the whole world.
The British started growing tea in Assam as a reaction to China’s near total domination of the tea trade in days of yore. Tea production began getting underway in Assam in the 1830s and grew quite rapidly over the next half century or so. By the time David Crole wrote his Tea: a Text Book of Tea Planting and Manufacture, in 1897, tea production there was quite well established. Read the free online edition of the book here.
There’s not much info available on Crole nowadays, apart from his book. Early on, he notes that his expertise in the tea trade came from his work in Assam. He also mentions an affiliation with the Jokai Tea Company, which doesn’t appear to have survived to this day. Before leaving Assam to move back to England Crole also spent time in other tea growing regions in India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), where he added to his fund of tea knowledge.
As the title suggests, Crole’s book is a very practical one. He opens with a chapter that looks at the tea plant, which he refers to as “the great rival of alcohol.” Along with the nuts and bolts information in this chapter are some thoughts on how to properly prepare a cup of tea (fresh, cold water – only Indian or Ceylon tea, etc.).
From here it’s on to two chapters on the history of tea. Crole refers to these as the two most difficult chapters in the book to write, because it was so hard to arrive at “actual facts.” Crole claims that tea was originally from Assam and later imported into China. While he deals with the latter country, a good chunk of this chapter is devoted to tea history in India and Assam. Chapter three finds Crole tackling tea history in Ceylon and a few other miscellaneous tea growing nations.
From here on out it’s pretty much nuts and bolts stuff all the way, with various chapters devoted to different aspects of tea production and processing. One chapter that’s somewhat out of the ordinary for this type of historical text bears the not so terribly politically correct title The Coolie: His Ways and His Worth. It’s a not so enlightened look at labor practices of the day which might raise a few eyebrows with modern readers.
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