Tea in India tastes stronger, so I always ask for mine to be mild, just like I do for curry. As I learnt today during a visit at a tea plantation and factory this is due to the processing of tea mostly used here for the Indian market: CTC. The tea leaves are Crushed, Teared, and Curled. So the chai here does not look like tea leaves but is presented as either powdered tea or granules. And just like my beloved chai tea latte back home, whose original name is masala chai, it is a mix of tea and spices.
Apart from differences in processing, all tea everywhere in the world comes from only two varieties of tea plants. Tea as a hot beverage originated in China from the tea plant Camellia Sinensis. In the 19th century during the Opium wars when the British could not access their hot beverage of choice, they tried to break the Chinese monopoly on tea with much espionnage, smuggling and tea trafficking. But it was only when the British discovered an endemic variety of tea in Assam, the Camellia sinensis var. assamica, that the tea industry took off. Using the Chinese planting and cultivating techniques, the British East India Company in the early 1820s began large-scale production of tea in Assam of a tea variety traditionally brewed by the Singpho tribe.
So although it’s been cultivated for only two centuries tea has changed the face of many a region in India. It was exciting to visit a plantation in the Western Ghats where tea is ubiquitous, and it was particularly exicting to tour a factory (photographs were prohibited inside) that made tea for the domestic market. It was an education about modern India as much as it was about the history of globalization.