As far as I’m aware the Darjeeling tea industry doesn’t have a slogan, but if they did, perhaps something along the lines of “quality, not quantity” would be suitable. The total output of tea produced in this region of India is pretty much a drop in the bucket when stacked up against India’s other great growing region, Assam, but the quality is typically high enough that Darjeeling is one of the more coveted varieties among tea connoisseurs.

Mim Estate Darjeeling - one of the fine teas from this region of India

Mim Estate Darjeeling – one of the fine teas from this region of India

Though tea has apparently grown wild in northeastern India for some time, when the British first began their efforts to introduce it into Assam in the 1820s they rejected the native plants in favor of imports from China. When these did not thrive, planters reverted to the native plants and an industry was born.

Tea came later to Darjeeling than it did to Assam. It was apparently not indigenous to this region, so it made sense when the British imported Chinese tea seeds to plant there. This happened in 1841, courtesy of a British physician named Dr. Campbell, of the Indian Medical Service. In 1847 his plants were examined by a tea planter from Assam, whose verdict sufficiently inspired Campbell to get his hands on some of the native Assam seeds and give them a try as well. In 1856 the first tea plantation got underway in Darjeeling and by 1858 other planters were trying their hand at tea and there were already seven plantations known to be operating in the region. For some reflections on the early days of Darjeeling tea from the vantage point of a half century later look here.

In a science journal of the day, Campbell is mentioned in connection with his participation in The International of 1862, also known as the Great London Exposition. He provided 142 tea samples from fifty estates throughout India and noted that the most valuable of them originated in Darjeeling. Though production there was only about 10,000 pounds annually at the time, Campbell estimated that it would increase fivefold the following year. For a listing of the samples provided by Campbell and some of his thoughts on the early days of tea in Darjeeling, look here.

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