Friday, February 29, 2008
About Assam Tea
Assam Tea is a black tea named after the region of its production: Assam, India. This tea grown at sea level is known for its body, briskness, malty flavor, and strong, bright color. Assam teas, or blends containing Assam, are often sold as "breakfast" teas. English Breakfast tea, Irish Breakfast tea, and Scottish Breakfast Tea are common generic names.
Though "Assam" generally denotes the distinctive black teas from Assam, the region produces relatively smaller quantities of green and white teas as well with their own distinctive characteristics.
Historically, Assam is the second commercial tea production region after southern China. Southern China and Assam are the only two regions in the world with native tea plants. Assam tea revolutionized tea drinking habits in the 19th century since the tea, produced from a different variety of the tea plant, yielded a different kind of tea.
The tea plant (Camellia sinensis var assamica) is grown in the lowlands of Assam, unlike Darjeelings and Nilgiris which are grown in the highlands.
The cradle of the tea plant is a region that encompasses the Assam state in northeastern India, the eastern and southern parts of China, and northern Myanmar. Spontaneous (wild) growth of the assamica variant is observed in an area ranging from the Indian state of Assam to the Chinese province Yunnan and the northern part of Myanmar.
The earliest reference to tea drinking in India is found in the writings of a Dutch seafarer, who wrote of tea being both eaten and drunk in India in 1598.
There exists a 10th century CE Sanskrit medical text from Assam called Nidana that mentions leaves called shamapatra from which shamapani is made. Historians are conflicted as to whether this is the first mention of tea in India.
Before the commercialization of tea began in Assam, the leaves of the tea plant were chewed by the local villagers with little or no processing. This continues in certain inaccessible regions of southeastern Assam, as well as in neighboring regions of Myanmar.
Bodos (pronounced BO-ROs) were the earliest settlers of Assam. It is likely that Bodos may have brought tea and rice to Assam. However, Robert Bruce is said to have re-discovered the tea plant growing wild in the region. According to another account, the Assamese nobleman, Maniram Dewan, led Robert Bruce to the plant in 1823. Before his death in 1825, Robert passed on his knowledge to his brother Charles, who sent seeds of the plant to Calcutta in 1831. In 1833 the British lost the monopoly of the Tea trade with China and the Tea Committee dispatched the secretary George Gordon to China to study the methods and begin tea plantation in Assam. He returned with the Chinese variety and workers. Imported labor from Bihar and Orissa would later form a significant demographic group in Assam. It was found that the local variety of plant was more suited to the local climate. Crossing with the Chinese tea plant led to Indian hybrid tea, which has great variability and vigour. This has been called the most important evolution of the commercial tea plant.
On May 8, 1838 350 pounds (159 kg) of Assam tea were dispatched to London, and sold at India House, London on January 10, 1839. Drinkers were impressed with the tea, and the tea industry in Assam was born. Charles Bruce and others, including Maniram Dewan, began clearing the jungles and establishing tea estates.
On February 26, 1858 Maniram Dewan, the sole native tea planter, was hanged on charges of conspiracy and participation in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 against the British on the basis of an intercepted letter.
Modern developments in the tea industry
Since the 19th century, most tea has been planted using the same techniques without seed selection. The industry continued to grow slowly but steadily during the 20th century. In the 1970s small scale tea cultivators with farms smaller than one hectare began growing tea. Cultivation on small farms increased during the 1990s and today accounts for over 10% of the tea produced in Assam. Tea cultivation remains a vital industry in the region employing 17% of the workforce.
Today, Assam produces more than half the tea grown in India. On the international market, Assam Tea can be identified by the official logo chosen by the Tea Board of India. Most Assam tea is sold through the Auction Centre at Guwahati. Recently, India's tea industry has faced a crisis with prices dropping due to reduced exports and domestic consumption. However, Assam tea exports to the United States are expected to increase as more Americans are drinking tea and seeking tea of higher quality.
Of the agriculture-based industries, tea occupies an important place in Assam. The plants used to grow naturally in the Upper Brahmaputra valley. Robert Bruce, an official of the British empire, who is credited with the discovery of tea in Assam in 1823, gave publicity of the existence of the plant, the leaves of which were boiled to prepare the tea.
In Assam, tea is grown both in the Brahmaputra and Barak plains. Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sibsagar, Jorhat, Golaghat, Nagaon and Sonitpur are the districts where tea gardens are mostly found. Assam produces 51% of the tea produced in India and about 1/6th of the tea produced in the world.
In 1911 a Tea Research Centre was started at Toklai in Jorhat for developing more scientific and fruitful methods of cultivating tea plants, applying fertilizer, testing soil, selecting sites for garden and processing tea leaves. This is the oldest and largest Tea Research Centre in the world.
Instant tea project was established at the Tea Research Centre of Toklai Experimental Station in 1974. Instant tea is a golden coloured powder which dissolves in hot or cold water easily.
For a better marketing of the tea produced in Assam and the entire North Eastern States, a Tea Auction Centre - Guwahati Tea Auction Centre - was established in 1970 at Guwahati. This is the world's largest CTC tea auction centre and the world's second largest in terms of total tea. It now auctions more than 150 million kg of tea valued at more than Rs 550.00 crores annually.
Tea industry has contributed substantially to the economy of Assam. About 17 percent of the workers of Assam are engaged in the tea industry.
India exported only around 156.7 million kilograms of tea last year compared to 218.7 million kilograms in the previous year, recording a shortfall of 62 million kilograms. Sources said that in 2006, around 98.81 million kilograms of north Indian tea was exported and the figure came down to 84.05 last year. Similarly, around 119 million kilograms of south Indian tea was exported in 2006 and the figure came down to 72.65 million kilograms last year. With Assam producing more than 50 percent of tea produced in India, the overall decline of the volume of exports will seriously affect the tea industry in the state in the days to come.
India produced 955.91 million kilograms of tea in 2006 and the figure came down to 944 million kilograms last year.
INDIAN TEA INDUSTRY
The tea industry in India is about 170 years old. It occupies an important place and plays a very useful part in the national economy. Robert Bruce in 1823 discovered tea plants growing wild in upper Brahmaputra Valley. In 1838 the first Indian tea from Assam was sent to United Kingdom for public sale. Thereafter, it was extended to other parts of the country between 50's and 60's of the last century.
However, owing to certain specific soil and climatic requirements its cultivation was confined to only certain parts of the country. Tea plantations in India are mainly located in rural hills and backward areas
of North-eastern and Southern States. Major tea growing areas of the country are concentrated in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The other areas where tea is grown to a small extent are Karnataka, Tripura, Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Sikkim, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Bihar and Orissa.
Unlike most other tea producing and exporting countries, India has dual manufacturing base. India produces both CTC and Orthodox teas in addition to green tea. The weightage lies with the former due to domestic consumers’ preference. Orthodox tea production is balanced basically with the export demand. Production of green tea in India is small. The competitors to India in tea export are
Sri Lanka, Kenya, China, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Tea is an agro-based commodity and is subjected to vagaries of nature. Despite adverse agro climatic condition experienced in tea growing areas in many years, Indian Tea Plantation Industry is able to maintain substantial growth in relation to volume of Indian tea production during the last one decade.
There has been a dramatic tilt in tea disposal in favour of domestic market since fifties. While at the time of Independence only 79 M.Kgs or about 31% of total production of 255 M.Kgs of tea was retained for internal consumption, in 2006 as much as 771 M.Kgs or about 81% of total production of 956 M.Kgs of tea went for domestic consumption. Such a massive increase in domestic consumption has been due to increase in population, greater urbanisation, increase in income and standard of living etc.
Indian tea export has been an important foreign exchange earner for the country. There was an inherent growth in export earnings from tea over the years. Till 70s’, UK was the major buyer of Indian tea Since 80s’ USSR became the largest buyer of Indian tea due to existence of the trade agreement between India and erstwhile USSR. USSR happened to be the major buyer of Indian tea accounting for more than 50% of the total Indian export till 1991. However, with the disintegration of USSR and abolition of Central Buying Mechanism, Indian tea exports suffered a set back from 1992-93. However, Indian Tea exports to Russia/CIS countries recovered from the setback since 1993 under Rupee Debt Repayment Route facilities as also due to long term agreement on tea entered into between Russia and India. Depressed scenario again started since 2001 due to change in consumption pattern, i.e. switch over from CTC to Orthodox as per consumer preference and thus India has lost the Russian market. Another reason for decline in export of Indian tea to Russia is offering of teas at lower prices by China, South Asian countries like Indonesia and Vietnam. The major competitive countries in tea in the world are Sri Lanka, Kenya, China and Indonesia. China is the major producer of green tea while Sri Lanka and
Indonesia are producing mainly orthodox varieties of tea. Kenya is basically a CTC tea producing country. While India is facing competition from Sri Lanka and Indonesia with regard to export of orthodox teas and from China with regard to green tea export, it is facing competition from Kenya and from other African countries in exporting CTC teas.
Because of absence of large domestic base and due to comparatively small range of exportable items, Sri Lanka and Kenya have an edge over India to offload their teas in any international markets. This is one of the reasons of higher volume of export by Sri Lanka and Kenya compared to India. Another important point is that, U.K has substantial interest in tea cultivation in Kenya. Most of the sterling companies, after Indianisation due to implementation of FERA Act started tea cultivation in Kenya. So, it makes business sense for U.K. to buy tea from Kenya and Kenya became the largest supplier of tea to U.K.
Tea is an essential item of domestic consumption and is the major beverage in India. Tea is also considered as the cheapest beverage amongst the beverages available in India. Tea Industry provides gainful direct employment to more than a million workers mainly drawn from the backward and socially weaker section of the society. It is also a substantial foreign exchange earner and provides sizeable
amount of revenue to the State and Central Exchequer. The total turnover of the Indian tea industry is in the vicinity of Rs.8000 Crs. Presently, Indian tea industry is having (as on 31.12.2006 )
• 1655 registered Tea Manufacturers,
• 2008 registered Tea Exporters,
• 5148 number of registered tea buyers,
• Nine tea Auction centres.
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Assam Company Limited- pioneer in the evolution of the tea industry
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The story of the Assam Company is intricately associated with the beginning and evolution of the tea industry in the Indian sub-continent. Assam Company was the pioneer in the evolution of the tea industry in Assam and has a unique status in the story of tea in India. Today, the Company has established itself as one of the leading producers of Assam tea of the finest quality, grown and manufactured in the group's own gardens.
The tea industry in Assam owes its origins to a river gunboat commander called Charles Alexander Bruce. In 1825 he braved the mighty Brahmaputra to sow the seeds of the tea plant in the wilderness of Assam. After quite a long hiatus of around fourteen years, Bruce managed to get official approval for commercial cultivation and the first consignment of Assam tea left Indian shores for the London market. This consignment had twelve packages of tea which belonged to Assam Company.
The warm reception given to this new tea provided the initial impetus to the formation of the first commercial tea Company in the world - The Assam Company. The founders were distinguished British merchants and such Indian luminaries as Prince Dwarkanath Tagore (grandfather of poet and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore), Babu Motilal Sil and others. Outstanding personalities subsequently served as directors like Richard Twinings, James Warren and William Duncan.
The Assam Company was formed at a meeting of merchants in London on 12th February 1839 with a capital of £500,000 in 10,000 shares of £50 each, of which 8000 were to be allotted to Great Britain and 2000 to India. The name of the Company was decided upon keeping in mind the fact that lime, coal and oil were all to be found in the region and there was a distinct possibility of trading in any or all of these commodities, besides tea. Hence, The Assam Company rather than The Assam Tea Company was chosen, though tea was to be the main business. The Company acquired two-thirds of the government's Experimental Tea Gardens, together with permission to settle on other lands.
The Assam Company was first formed with the objective of tea cultivation in India. Some people of repute with the requisite capital had met in Calcutta for the same purpose; the Company was to be called The Bengal Tea Association. The two companies merged with the stipulation that 1400 of the 2000 shares would be given to the promoters of the Bengal Tea Association. Charles Alexander Bruce joined the Company's service on 1st March 1840, as he was the only person with any knowledge of tea cultivation and manufacture. From 1844 the Company was on the upswing, with performance and profits enhanced, which was primarily due to two outstanding entrepreneurs of the time, Henry Burkinyoung and William Roberts. In 1845, the Company was granted a Deed of British Parliament and was awarded the Royal Charter by Queen Victoria in recognition of its pioneering excellence.
In 1846, the Company declared its first dividend, but a period of crisis prevailed for some time as resources, lives and energy were strained to the utmost by the prevailing conditions in Assam. In 1852, the silver lining appeared at last with a modest dividend and the tide turned for the Company.
The Company 's progress was consistent, together with the emphasis on the quality of its product. In 1978, after the momentous years of the post-independence era, the Partition of the country and the World War, the Indian undertakings of The Assam Company along with those of five other sterling companies, were amalgamated to constitute what was known as The Assam Company (India) Limited. The new Company went public one year later, to an enthusiastic response.
Over the years the Company has maintained its close allegiance to tea, specializing in the cultivation, manufacture and marketing of some of the finest Assam teas in the world. Keeping pace with technology and modern management practices, the Company has grown to be a major player in the industry.
Assam Company Limited is a group company comprising of professional companies engaged in multifaceted activities like Tea plantation, Oil & Gas exploration, production & supply, Road Transportation etc., and a heritage company since 1839.
Assam Railway Trading Company and River Steam & Navigating Company, one of the group companies of ACL, is the key initiator for development of North East. Assam Railway Trading Company laid first railway track through the heartland of Assam.
Assam Railway Trading Company had infrastructure from Lower Assam to Upper Assam by which all the resources grown and available in Assam, were transported by the Railway to Pandu and thereafter by the water ways (River Steam & Navigating Company) for onwards shipment overseas.Oil & Gas Limited, another group company of ACL, is into exploration, production and supply of oil and natural gas in several parts of north east India where the oldest well exists at Digboi. The company is in oil exploration and supply in Australia. The Company is in negotiation with Libya for undertaking Oil & Gas exploration concessions. The company is looking for further exploration in the countries like Sudan, Myanmar , Kazakistan and some other central Asian provinces for its global forays in the oil & exploration business.
Assam Company is one of fewest heritage companies in India serving to the development of industries over 165 year. It is the first tea plantation company in India started its tea garden in North East India in 1839. Assam Company is the first company to explore oil in Assam in the year 1889. It is indeed a story that the engineers supervising the wood felling and carrying through elephants, found mark of oil on the feet of the elephants. They reached the spot and asked the laborers to dig saying "Dig Boy, Dig". In fact, this was phenomenally known as Digboi, the oldest Well of the country located in Upper Assam.
Assam Company is the only non-government company that has been exploring oil in north east India and desires to expand its exploration in the basin of Bay of Bengal.
Assam Company Ltd (ACL) was founded in 1839 and is the pioneer tea plantation company in the world. It is the first tea plantation company of India started its first tea garden in 1839. ACL is also the first company to explore oil in Assam in the year 1889.
In 1845, the Company by a Deed of British Parliament was awarded the "Royal Charter" by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, the then Empress of India in recognition of excellence.
In 2005, Mr. David Dewherst, Hon'ble Lt. Governor of Texas, USA, presented the "Wooden Hammer of Texas" to Dr. KK Jajodia, the Chairman of Assam Group of Companies.
Tea is a gift of the British Raj to India and through India to the world, successfully achieved through ACL, which continues to be recognized as the "Jewel of the Crown" of the Tea Industry.
• In India Oil was first discovered in North East by an associate of Assam Company Limited.
• After liberalization of Indian Govt. policies in 1991 - 1992, ACL diversified into the oil and gas industry focusing on exploration, development, and production in North East India.
• One of the leading producers of the most exquisite, high quality, premium teas.
• Operates 16 factories, 16 tea estates and gardens spread over 15,000 hacs.
• Employs over 32,000 people with well laid out infrastructure, duly supported by planned social welfare activities.
• Preparing the platform to expand its value on the global tea market.
• ACL actively takes interest in the field of wild life preservation
VARIOUS News on Tea Industry::::
Newer technologies to revive Indian tea industry:-
Indian scientists here are devising new cost effective technologies to cut down tea production expenses and upgrade factorymachinery in an attempt to revive the country's beleaguered tea industry.
India's $1.5 billion tea industry is facing a crisis with prices dropping in the weekly auctions, besides a slump in export figures. A team of experts at the Tocklai Experimental Station in the heart of India's tea-growing state of Assam is working overtime these days to come up with newer technologies to tide over the crisis faced by the tea industry.
The Tocklai Station located in the tea-growing town of Jorhat in eastern Assam was set up in 1901 and is currently the world's biggest facility for tea research.
"We are currently working on some innovative projects to try and develop technologies that help in bringing down the cost of tea production," said Mridul Hazarika, director the Tocklai Station.
"We are progressing well with our mission and hope to complete the project soon," Hazarika told IANS.India is the world's largest tea producer with Assam accounting for about 55 percent of the total 825 million kg produced in 2004. Tea exports had plummeted from 200 million kg in 2002 to 170 million kg last year, while a kg of good quality Assam tea that fetched Rs.100 five years ago today sells at around Rs.65 in the weekly auctions.
The slump in tea prices was largely attributed to cheap and inferior quality teas produced by many new tea-growing countries, thereby pushing premium quality Indian teas to facing stiffer competition in the global market.
Moreover, there are complaints that quality of Indian tea has deteriorated over the years with planters not conforming to a uniformset of parameters for tea production.
"We are now using on an experimental basis an automated tea factory to standardise parameters for tea production. The automated factory will help in online monitoring of the entire process of tea production, which in turn will ensure better quality," Hazarika said.
Though tea as an industry is more than a century old, almost all Indian gardens are still using manual methods in their factories for tea production. "The quality of tea produced in our experimental automated factory is indeed encouraging and we hope we can disseminate the technology soon among the industry," another scientist at the station said.
Close to a hundred gardens in Assam have closed down in the past three years with planters unable to sustain the crashing prices of the beverage in the auctions.
"Unless we are able to cut down the tea production costs, it will be difficult to compete in the world market. We hope scientists at the Tocklai Station are able to come to our rescue by developing cost effective technologies soon," said B. Sharma, a senior planter.
The Union Commerce Ministry is launching a series of initiatives to revive the tea industry, including boosting exports to new markets like Pakistan and Iran, increasing value addition and launching a Rs. 4,700-crore special purpose tea fund in the current fiscal.
The Ministry is planning a series of "tea festivals'' in key producing States like Assam, while the Tea Board is expected to revive the system of setting up tea centres abroad.
According to Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh, India's role as a leading tea exporter has diminished over the years on account of competition from countries like Sri Lanka, Kenya and Vietnam. The country's total tea exports were now estimated to net $350 million annually, a small percentage of the country's total exports, he said.
At the same time, he told The Hindu the tea industry provided direct and indirect employment to as many as 2.5 million people in Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It was, therefore, essential to revive the fortunes of this traditional plantation crop, he said.
As a first step, he said, the Centre had set up a Rs. 4,700-crore special purpose tea fund for which an initial Rs. 100 crore had been provided. Disbursement for the tea sector from this fund would begin in November. The main aim of the fund would be to help in replanting of the tea crop in many old plantations where replanting was urgently required to improve the health of the crop.
Secondly, he said, a series of marketing initiatives were under way to tap the growing markets of Pakistan, Iran, Egypt and Iraq. A high level team was expected to go to Pakistan shortly to explore the prospects for doubling tea exports to 20 million kg in the current fiscal. Similarly, the Iran market was considered highly prospective, while efforts would have to be made to restore exports to Iraq. Mr. Ramesh said the system of setting up tea centres abroad was also proposed to be restored by setting up two such centres in Cairo (Egupt) and Teheran (Iran). This would be implemented through public-private partnership, he said.
In addition, promote the domestic tea industry and to create a marketing platform for the crop, it had been decided to hold an India International Tea Festival annually. The first festival would be held in Guwahati in August, he said. Thirdly, he said, efforts were being made to improve the value addition by giving a focus on products like organic and green tea.
The system of electronic auctions was also proposed to be expanded from the present level of 50 per cent of total sales to 100 per cent over the next year. Mr. Ramesh said a meeting of the tea industry would be convened on June 1 to consider plans in this regard as well as the proposal to set up special e-auction centres in Coonoor, Coimbatore, Chennai, Kolkata, Siliguri, Guwahati, Jorhat and Dibrugarh.
"A kilogram of good quality Assam tea sells at Rs.60, which is about Rs.2.5 higher than last year. Compared to 2005, exports have gone up by about eight million kilogram to 200 million kg last year."
They were once the domain of aristocrats, with hardnosed British sahibs on horseback supervising them. But tea plantations in Assam have come full circle as hundreds of small farmers have taken to growing the crop.
The profession has now shifted from the rich to the common man, especially unemployed youths who have taken up tea cultivation as a business venture. Some even cultivate it in their backyards.
Monoram Gogoi was until recently wandering aimlessly after completing his post graduation in economics.
'I decided to grow tea in about 25 hectares of land sometime in 2002. Unlike the British sahibs who gave orders, I work alongside the workers for the whole day,' Gogoi old IANS.
He is already reaping the benefits, producing about 30,000 kg of green tea leaves annually.
The small tea growers sell the leaves to the nearby big plantations where it is processed - a kilogram of green tea leaves is sold at Rs.8 to Rs.12 depending on the market.
'There are more than 43,000 small tea growers in Assam producing about nine percent of the state's total annual production,' Basudeb Banerjee, chairman of the Tea Board of India, told IANS.
Assam is considered the heart of India's $1.5 billion tea industry and accounts for about 55 percent of the total annual production of 955 kg last year.
'Most of us were born amidst tea gardens and so we thought why not give a try to cultivating on our own as getting a government job in Assam is very tough. The plan clicked,' said Arindam Saikia, another small tea farmer.
Across this tea-growing belt in eastern Assam, people in large numbers have started growing the crop in 20 to 25 hectares of land, some even cultivating tea in their backyards.
'We have been provided with technical support and advice by experts at the Assam Agriculture University in Jorhat and also help from the Tocklai Tea Research Station for better yield and quality,' Gogoi said.
The Tea Board is now setting up a special cell to cater to the needs of the small tea cultivators - already the Board has helped set up 47 self-help groups comprising of about 15 members each to grow tea.
'The production cost for green tea leaves for small growers is just about 25 percent and so the profit margin is reasonably good,' said Madhusudan Khandait, secretary of the Assam Chah Mazdoor Sangha, the apex tea workers trade union.
'The fact that many of the youths are now taking up tea cultivation is a sign of prosperity and will surely ease the growing unemployment problem in the state,' Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told IANS.
Spurred by the mushrooming growth of small tea growers, the Indian commerce ministry recently took a team of young tea farmers from Assam to Kenya and Sri Lanka to help them get first hand knowledge about the success of small tea cultivation in the two countries.
'The idea was to give them exposure and get vital skills from tea growers in Kenya and Sri Lanka,' Minister of State for Commerce Jairam Ramesh said.
The Indian tea industry was facing a crisis with prices dropping in the weekly auctions since 1998. The slump in prices was largely attributed to cheap and inferior quality teas produced by many new tea-growing countries, thereby pushing premium quality Indian teas to facing stiffer competition in the global market.
But the industry is showing signs of resurgence with prices firming up in the auctions and exports increasing as well.
A kilogram of good quality Assam tea sells at Rs.60, which is about Rs.2.5 higher than last year. Compared to 2005, exports have gone up by about eight million kilogram to 200 million kg last year.
'Despite the tea industry not doing very well in recent years, the income generated from the small plantations is good enough in comparison to doing nothing,' said Kaustav Saikia, a small tea grower in the eastern Dibrugarh district.
Assam Tea Industry In search of lost glory
Not deterred by colas and instant drinks flooding the market, tea as refreshing and invigorating beverage rules the roost. Going by this fact, Assam tea industry ‘rejuvenates’ itself to find the old glory.
ASSAM is the biggest producer of quality tea, contributing anything between 53 and 60 per cent to country’s total tea production. According to Dr. S. K. Bhuyan as per his book “Anglo-Assamese relations: 1771-1826,” the tea plant was discovered in 1823 by Robert Bruce, merchant and soldier of fortune, during his visit to Rongpur, where he was imprisoned by the Burmese. A Singpho chief furnished Bruce with some plants. In 1824 Robert Bruce gave some plants to his brother C. A. Bruce who handed them over to David Scott. Scott in turn gave a few specimens to the Botanical Garden, Calcutta. The discovery of tea plant in Assam enabled the East India Company to develop a trade, which China has hitherto monopolised.
C. A. Bruce was appointed superintendent of the government tea forest, who in 1837 sent 46 boxes of Assam tea to the tea committee. When in 1824, Dr. N. Wallich of Botanical Garden identified these specimens it was the beginning of the scientific study of tea in India. Dr. Wallich visited Assam in 1834 and submitted his report in 1835.
The biggest research centre of tea in the world, situated in Jorhat was started in Calcutta in 1900 by the India Tea Association. In 1904, a laboratory was started at Heelea- kah Tea Estate near Mariani. In 1912, the laboratory was shifted to Jocklai and was renamed as Jocklai experimental station. In 1964, the experimental station became Tea Research Association (TRA). The Assam Company was accordingly formed in England in 1839 with a capital of Rs. 5 lakh. The Assam Company with its headquarters in Nazira is the oldest commercial tea company of Assam which is still functioning. The second company was formed in 1859 as the Jorhat Tea Company and even today its central office is at Jorhat.
The first consignment of 12 boxes of tea manufactured by the Singpho chiefs were shipped from Calcutta to London in 1835. The first auction of tea took place in London on May 26, 1841, which was conducted by Ms McKenzie Lyll & Company. 35 chests of tea made by the Singphos and 95 chests from the government plantation of Assam were offered.
The first Indian to start planting of tea was an Assamese nobleman Maniram Dutta Barma, popularly known as Maniram Dewan. He was a Dewan of Assam Company until resigned in 1841 to start his own tea estate. He had two gardens at Jorhat and near Sonari. But the British hanged him in 1858 for taking part in mutiny in 1857. After Maniram Dewan’s pioneering efforts, many others, mostly Assamese, came forward to plant tea. Someswar Sharma became the first Indian superintendent of the tea industry of the Manband Tea Company. After independence things started changing. The British dominated industry changed hands. Although the Jalans, Saharias, Ahmeds, Kanois, Darshan Lalls and few others were already there, the reputed industrialists of India like the Birla, Poddar, Paul, Shetia, Rhuia and Tata amongst other became the biggest producer of Assam tea.
From 1823, the tea industry in Assam valley came a long way. Today there are about six lakh tea garden workers engaged in 850 tea gardens.
There are a number of bodies that coordinate the whole tea industry of Assam. The Tea Board is the main body that looks into the tea promotion with offices in Guwahati, Tripura, Jorhat, Tezpur and Silchar. N. K. Das is the chairman of the board. In the 9th five year Plan the board has sanctioned Rs. 1554.28 lakh to the North-East, of which 74.93 lakh is grant-in-aid. The board provides subsidy on machinery and equipment and also provides finance scheme (up to 50 lakh) for the benefit of the planters.
The Tea Association of India is another significant body having about 160 tea gardens of Assam under its purview. It also has some more tea gardens of North Bengal and Tripura under its cover. The Assam Branch of the India Tea Association (ABITA) is also an important body that acts as a chamber of commerce. Formed way back in 1889, it promotes the interest of the tea industry. It safeguards the interests of tea industry and its workers. It has about 282 tea gardens under its purview with officers at Dibrugarh, Jorhat and Tezpur. There are a number of other bodies like the Assam Tea Planters Association, Bharatiya Cha Parishad and the Assam Cha Mazdoor Sangh. Apart from other functions, these bodies play a pivotal role in defending the interest of the workers such as wages, provident fund, bonus, etc.
Assam has CTC and orthodox leaf varieties of tea as also the dust. For the year 2001-2002, there was good demand for the liquoring variety of CTC leaf. The major blender lent good support. Western India buyers were active on liquoring sorts. Tata tea was selective in purchase. 94.4. million kgs of CTC leaf was auctioned at an average price of 70.58 per kg. There was also a fair demand for the orthodox variation. Prices followed quality. North Indian buyers absorbed the bulk of orthodox offerings.
There was selective demand for the dust variety. There was good demand for liquoring dust. Major blender lent good support. Tata Tea competed for liquoring dust. Western India markets continued to support teas in premium segment. 42.8 million of dust variety was auctioned at an average 64.64 per kg. For the year 2000-2001, 97474, 897.9 kg of CTC tea of Assam was sold at an average price of Rs. 72. 5 per kg. In the orthodox variety 828148.9 kgs were sold at an average price of Rs. 67.56 per kg. As for dust 43,344, 637.2 kgs were sold at an average price of Rs. 70.83. All the three varieties combined, a total of 141,637,648 kgs of Assam tea was sold at an average price of Rs. 71. 97 per kg.
In 2000, the total area of Assam under tea production was 26739 hectares and total production of tea (in thousand kgs) was 451236, thus showing a yield (kg/hectare) of 1688. However, in 2001, the production of tea (in thousand kgs) dipped to 450132, thus falling by 1104 thousand kgs from the previous year’s production. 2001 figures of Indian tea export (in million kgs) show a total figure of 164.19. The main countries to which the tea is going are CIS countries (including Russia and Khazakhistan) — 77.46 million kgs; UK — 15.41 million kgs; UAE — 19.65 million kgs; Iraq — 14.14 million kgs; Polland — 7.59 million kgs and the USA — 5.35 million kgs.
While the tea industry in Assam grew, but with the passage of time it also started facing many problems. With the coming of cola age, aerated drinks and many other ready to pick bottle drinks flooded the market. The present crisis in the tea industry started in 1999, when unprecedented drought during the early part of the season led to drastic production cuts. Year 2000 saw the marginal improvement in production but there was a sharp drop in price realisation. Production in Assam in 2001 was low compared to the national average. During the year, prices further declined. Export also dropped by 27 million kgs and Assam could export only 18 million kgs of tea. It is believed that Assam is losing exports due to wrong production mix and also because of the inability to compete with the other tea producing countries due to high cost of production. The quality of Assam tea has also deteriorated in the past couple of years as planters are paying more stress on quantity over quality.
Tea gardens being stretched over vast pieces of land in the countryside and suburban areas, providing security cover to the gardens has become a demanding task. Militancy is also telling heavily on the industry. With good housing, health, education along with better salaries and wages, the labourers here enjoy better facilities than any one engaged in somewhere else. Today prolific singers, sportspersons, academicians and even politicians are coming up from the garden areas of Assam, which truly reflect their condition.
Assam tea industry now hopes to turn a new leaf with little help from consultancy major A. F. Furguson and Company. The Tea Board has sought the help of this firm for recommending ways to revive the old glory of tea industry in Assam. The Union Commerce Ministry has also appointed Accenture, a reputed consultancy firm to recommend remedial measures for the tea industry. These firms have emphatically laid stress on quality.
Meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Commerce has promised to make every endeavour to develop the tea industry of Assam with healthy flow of funds. An all-party delegation, led by the Speaker of Assam Assembly Prithivi Majhi had an interaction with the Central Commerce Ministry In New Delhi in April this year. The delegation has given a memorandum to the ministry asking it to safeguard the long-term interests of the tea industry. It is believed that the Centre has initiated a series of measures for the development and protection of the industry. Union Commerce Minister Murasoli Maran had said that the Tea Board would consider the suggestion to concentrate of specific markets like Egypt, Polland, Iraq, Afghanistan and Russia, while implementing a medium term export strategy on tea. The Tea Board has introduced a scheme of subsidy for the manufacture of orthodox tea, which is preferred in the international market. These would support the manufacturers to switch from CTC to orthodox tea manufacturing. This scheme has a 50 per cent for small scale producers and 25 per cent subsidy for the estate factories. A generic promotion campaign has also been launched for improving consumption of tea within the country in the wake of stiff competition faced from soft drinks and other products.
According to the directorate of tea, there are about 28,000 small tea gardens in the State producing about 70 million kgs tea annually. The State Government is thinking of registering the small tea gardens with the labour department. The Tea Board has opened a cell at the Assam Agricultural University to train small tea growers with the aim of improving the quality of Assam tea. A similar training session for small growers would also be started at Jocklai Research Station. chairman of the Tea Board N. K. Das informed that a cooperative of small growers was floated in Assam and the Tea Board would help it to purchase a factory of its own which in turn would help produce quality tea. Recently a group of tea makers of small tea growers from Assam visited Kangra valley of Himachal Pradesh to learn about mechanised plucking and new methods pruning tea bushes. Kangra valley is known for producing orthodox tea of a high quality. The group that was sponsored by the Tea Board returned with a wealth of information. The Tea Board will also introduce an export rating system soon to control the quality of Assam tea. The tea research association is also taking measures in Jocklai for producing quality tea.
Tea and Assam are synonymous with each other. The State, its government, the people, and the various bodies along with the Central Government must go whole hog in restoring the golden days of Assam tea.
Total surrender to the global market forces has jeopardized the Indian tea industry and the millions who depend on it for livelihood. The absence of any rehabilitative measures for those who are displaced economically and socially betrays� the altruistic tone of the globalizing forces. The past generations of the tea garden workers had lived and died in the same tea estates that they were born. In absence of a good education system or professional training, the avenues of social and economic mobility for the present generation are sealed. The minimum wage in the tea gardens is still anchored at Rs. 48.50 a day. Most of the workers live in squalid and unhygienic conditions without access to decent medical facilities by any standards. Hundreds of people die from gastrointestinal diseases each year and preventable deaths from malaria and diarrhea are also common among children.
E-Brewing For More Business
Assam hopes to revive the tea industry’s flagging fortunes using the Internet.
THE HAMMER that comes down at the world’s largest CTC tea auction centre just might become a thing of the past if the modernisers have their way. In a bid to revive the fading aroma of Assam’s tea industry, the joint forum of three Assam-based tea associations — the Assam Tea Planters’ Association (ATPA), Bharatiya Cha Parishad (BCP) and North Eastern Tea Association (NETA) — has now decided to usher in e-auctioning of tea.
The Forum felt that poor price realisation in the auction market was one of the reasons why the industry was suffering. “A design correction of the age-old auction system can correct the system for fair price recovery. The design of the present auction is restrictive, allowing only a limited number of participants: this makes the auctions less competitive and more prone to collusion and cartelisation,” points out a BCP official.
If the e-auction idea takes off, it will be a major break in tradition. India’s first tea auction was held in Kolkata in 1861, and in 1970, the Guwahati Tea Auction Centre was established to market Assam tea better. It auctions over 150 million kilogrammes of tea.
With over a million workers directly employed by the industry in Assam, tea is the brew of business in Assam and the rest of the Northeast. Naturally, the industry’s prolonged recession (since 2000) has the workers and businessmen worried, with poor yield from old bushes and higher social costs the main causes.
Aware of the industry’s problems, the Ministry of Commerce has prepared a draft policy paper to be circulated among the members of the Tea Board. Among other views, the Joint Forum pointed out the lacunae in the auction procedure. “The e-auction will enable any buyer from any part of the world to access it,” says BCP chairman Ranjit Chaliha
A study of auction systems in a other commodities shows that quality signalling is vital: the more informed the buyer, the more aggressive the bidding process. Next, anonymity of the participants (buyers/bidders) is integral to a fair price mechanism. There is support for the proposal that the identity of buyers should be displayed at the closure of sale. But there is less support for the proposal that sellers/garden marks be anonymous because that might be inimical to brand building.
The advantage of the e-auction is that buyers can offer bids without being physically present, subject to their membership with the concerned auction committee. That could mean active participation from all segments of buyers.
Also, the closing of the bidding process should be done sequentially. The Forum suggested that the closing be done 100 lots at a time and grade wise, with a gap of half an hour between each closing. The auction design must minimise the possibility of trade/bids being clustered at the end of the sale. But the Forum does not agree that the entire grade of tea in each sale be bulked into one lot: because quality can vary considerably. Breaking up each lot into different invoices must continue, but the lot sizes should be standardised.
Among the other proposals that closure of trade be under the respective price methodology; the same buyer be allowed to bid in multiple offers, quoting a different price and quantity; and that the reserve price be known only to the auctioneer and concerned seller.
The government has signaled its willingness to go ahead by approving the appointment of NSE-IT to design an e-auction system, but progress has been slow. With the Tea Board electing to join the process, it’s possible that Assam’s most important industry is infused with a stronger flavour than at present.
India's Tea Industry and Assam
India, the largest producer and consumer of tea in the world, accounts for around 28 per cent of world production and 13 per cent of world trade. However, the production as well as export of tea has shown a declining trend in the recent years of the current decade. Thus, while the production increased from 835.6 million kg in 1997-98 to 848 million kg in 2000-01, it started declining thereafter from 847 million kg in 2001-02 to 830 million kg in 2004-05 and further down to only 667 million kg in 2005-06. Exports of tea, on the other hand has shown a further deterioration from 211 million kg in 1997-98 to 189 million kg in 1999¬2000 and from 204 million kg in 2000-01 to 183 million kg in 2003-04 and to just 101 million kg in 2005-06. In spite of almost stagnant rupee value in the period, the value of India's tea exports has come down from Rs. 2192 crore in 1998-99 to Rs. 1637 crore in 2003-04 and to less than RS.1000 crore in 2005-06. Thus our tea exports as proportion to production has declined from 24 percent in 1998¬99 to 15 percent in 2005-06, though it was 25 percent in the previous year.
In recent years, some quantity of tea is also imported for blending and re¬exports. The quantity of such imports went up from just 9 million kg in 1998-99 to 32.5 million kg in 2004-05 and it declined to 8 million kg in 2005-06.
One cannot forget that the major driving force behind the country's tea¬sector growth is the prospect of eastern India's tea industry, particularly of Assam which not only produces around 53 percent of the country's total production, but also employs more than 10 percent of the stat&s work force or around 12 lakh people. However, the share of Assam in the country's tea production in course of last three-and-half decades has remained confined to a narrow range from 51
per cent in 1970-71 to 53 per cent in 2003¬04 due to decline in per hectare productivity though the area under the plantation rose from 182 thousand hectares to 280 thousand hectares in the period with the number of tea estates rising from just 750 to as many as 32,000.
It may be noted here that the sudden rise in the number of tea gardens of Assam and its area under tea (to around three lakh hectares), particularly since the latter half of 1990's was due to the unemployed youths taking to small scale tea production as their profession. There are around 2500 small tea gardens in Assam today adding to the State’s total production by more than 50 million kg. This is certainly a welcome change. But, since they grow in small scale, they cannot go for factory manufacturing and, hence, have to sell out only green leaves to the large estates which often subject them to exploitation. The addition to tea hectarage by around 50 thousand hectares in the latter half of 1990's was possible mainly through conversion of agricultural land with below 10 hectares being the cut off point of land for small tea growers.
There are, however, a number of problems of tea industry of Assam. A considerable number of teagardens of the State have gone sick over the period due to lack of infrastructure, modernisation and efficient management. The Assam Tea Corporation, a state-level public sector enterprise, for example, is not functioning at all. The amount of good will that Assam tea had long been enjoying in the international market has now been eroded to a great extent. Though Assam tea is still earning around 50 per cent of the foreign exchange earned by India's tea industry, its demand is already in recession due to better quality-tea supplied by countries like Sri Lanka, Cuba etc at comparatively lower prices.
That the fate of India's tea industry is largely dependent on what happens to its eastern sector of Assam and West Bengal is well known. What is seriously worrying the tea industry is that even though India still produces 27 percent of global tea output, the quality of product is sadly doubted in the global market. It is a fact that the planters of major tea growing states, themselves were not careful enough about the deterioration of quality during heydays and their negligence gradually turned more than 30 per cent of tea bushes into infructus plants. Studies confirm that the root cause of closure of a number of tea gardens in parts of the country was low productivity and lack of investment in plant development activities.
India's tea market is facing yet another paradox which could be explained in terms of glaring gulf between the price received by producer and the price charged by dealers and retailers. The common consumer in the market is confused of the fact that while the producers are facing the crisis created by a
market glut and decline of prices, often voiced by the corporates, the benefit of low price does not come to the common consumers. The reason perhaps lies in non-conformity with regulated market behaviour of producers among whom many are found to be selling out their produce directly without routing it through auction centres.
This apart, the most serious ailment remains not only low productivity but also with quality of produce due to low investment on infrastructure and low managerial efficiency. The problems of high cost production and stagnant productivity need be addressed on an urgent basis. It is heartening to note, however, that some important steps in recent times have been taken for development and modernisation of the sector. The most important of them are the following:
Withdrawal of additional excise duty of Re 1.00 per kg on tea as announced in the Union Budget 2005-06.
Sanctioning of two schemes viz grant of subsidy for production of orthodox teas and assistance to the two Research and Development institutions, viz Tea Research Association at Tocklia (Assam) and United Planters' Association for Southern India Tea Research Foundation with an estimated outlay of Rs. 93 crore for financing Planning Commission is very positive about finding a solution of the tea crisis which the industry has long been suffering from. The Union Commerce Ministry proposed to unveil a 15-year programme for massive replantation and rejuvenation of the tea industry.
The "Special Tea Fund" to be created now will greatly benefit the tea growing states of Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Utlaranchal. The revival package for tea industry had already been assured of fiscal and tax incentives and of cost effectiveness for both domestic and export markets. The Union Commerce Minister also assured that it would provide a concrete support with special thrust on regeneration of old and replenishable tea bushes. The package which was proposed is also supposed to frame a marketing strategy to give the tea in the global market.
While the package if implemented promptly and with all sincerity, will go a long way to rescue the tea industry from its long drawn crisis, what is fearing now to the stakeholders is that the budgetary announcement of service tax on auctioneering could increase the tea prices if the tax liability is to be borne by the tea growers. If it is so, the market competition would be still tougher and it would affect the global demand for Indian tea. However, the other budgetary action of reducing customs duty on bulk plastics, used for packaging, from 10 per cent to 5 per cent would encourage value addition activity of tea industry because or the reduction of packaging cost.
What is necessary at the moment is that the tea industry get modernised with a change in technique of plantation, improvement of encouragement to the electronic tea auction and managerial excellence. If the "Special Purpose Tea Fund" with the already promised revolving corpus of Rs 1000 crore with a target of replantation in 1.7 lakh hectares over a period of 15 years, is established without further delay, the industry could be expected to get back its pride of place in international competitiveness and drive to road of prosperity.
Introduction to Tea Festival:
The Tea Festival is held in the district of Jorhat in the northeastern state of Assam in India. Jorhat is well-known for its extensive tea gardens, and is the nerve centre of the tea industry. Jorhat has the world famous Teklai Experimental Centre. In this place research work is carried out to find new varieties of tea and also the curative effects of green tea. The island of Majuli, the largest island on the Brahmaputra, and the Nambar Forest Reserve can be visited from Jorhat. In Majuli there are numerous monasteries and the Nambar Forest Reserve is famous for being a regenerating hot spring.
Description of Tea Festival:
The Tea Festival of Jorhat in Assam is celebrated in various parts of the state. The Tea Festival in Jorhat is all about tea, music and gaiety. The Tea Festival in Jorhat brings about a world of festivity with a warm and traditional cordial reception. The Jorhat Tea Festival offers an excellent package of fun and excitement. The celebrations of the Festival of Tea in Jorhat include visit to the tea gardens, playing golf, safaris into the jungles, tasting delicious food items, shopping and cultural entertainment. The adventure sports on offer include angling and rafting in turbulent rivers. The Tea Festival of Jorhat in Assam is a pleasant blend of a business trip and a pleasure trip. Along with the beauty and cultural diversity of Assam, tourists can also meet the warm hearted people of Assam.
Time of Celebration of Tea Festival:
The Tea Festival in Jorhat, in the state of Assam, is celebrated every year with great enjoyment, fun and entertainment.
THE tea industry in India, the world's leading producer, is in trouble -- a victim not only of global economics but also of its inability to lure new, younger drinkers. Things are so bad, in fact, that some producers are pinning their hopes on seemingly shaky markets like Afghanistan.
In the upper reaches of Assam, the tea-growing belt in the northeast, where India's first tea plants were discovered nearly two centuries ago, Ranjit Chaliha has made a living off his 465-acre Korangani tea gardens for 41 years.
But over the last year, Mr. Chaliha has lost much of his enthusiasm for tea growing. His gardens, he said, have taken ''a huge beating.''
With a glut in global tea production and a slump in tea exports here, prices are so low that Mr. Chaliha has had an annual loss for the first time in years.
In the auction last week in Guwahati, the world's main auction hub since Britain closed tea auctions a couple of years ago, Mr. Chaliha's tea sold for 45 rupees (93 cents) a kilogram, or 2.2 pounds. Two years ago, the same quality tea fetched 60 rupees ($1.24). The difference is making a huge dent in Mr. Chaliha's bottom line, as he sells about 1.1 million pounds of tea annually. ''The low prices are killing us,'' he said.
Over half of all Indian tea transactions between growers and buyers are conducted through auctions. For the growers, auctioneers, warehouse keepers and buyers at the busy auctions in Guwahati, the mood is somber.
Trying to think creatively, India's tea producers are looking for new markets. They are even preparing to send a delegation to Afghanistan, a big tea importer, to explore how to increase sales there now that a semblance of order has been restored.
Another producers' group, from southern India, has petitioned India's finance minister for tax breaks -- at least until prices strengthen.
None of this is likely to be of immediate help to Mr. Chaliha. Like most Indian tea, his product is of only medium quality, as determined by brightness, strength and flavor. Bright yellow tea, for instance, is considered to be of better quality than blackish tea.
Compared with teas produced by other countries, like Kenya and Sri Lanka, the quality of Indian teas has dropped considerably in the last five years. Rising labor costs and declining yields have driven producers to trade quality for quantity, leading tea drinkers across India to experiment with the variety of other tea available on store shelves -- or to switch to other drinks.
But the lower prices are dooming many tea plantations in Assam, which accounts for more than half of India's tea production. Mr. Chaliha said that a neighbor who owned a similar-sized tea garden had sold out to a trader, and that another planter in the area had just put his estate up for sale. Other gardens have leased out their factories to tide them over through the bad times.
Small and medium-size growers are beginning to question the economic viability of the crop.
''If things don't improve, I shudder to think what will happen to us next year,'' said Mr. Chaliha, who employs 350 year-round workers and an extra 350 during the picking season in northeastern India, from March to December. For the moment, he is surviving on his savings.
PRICES are low even for the premium Assam and Darjeeling tea crop, most of which is exported, said Jayanta Kakati, secretary of Guwahati's tea center. Typically, tea growers take a two-month break from picking at a time when the plants are nearly dormant. This year, however, there has been so much price anxiety at the auctions that the hiatus was extended by two weeks.
The longer shutdown, growers hoped, would clear out excess supply and strengthen prices. ''We are trying to balance supply and demand,'' Mr. Kakati said.
There are no signs yet that such measures are helping, and the story is much the same for those down the tea production chain.
Suruj Barua, who owns the Ajoli Tea Company in Guwahati, which buys leaves and packages them for bulk sale in the domestic market, said he also had been suffering.
From 783,000 pounds two years ago, Mr. Barua cut production to 682,000 last year. This year, he cut that further, to 550,000. ''The market is simply not supporting the teas that I produce,'' said Mr. Barua, estimating his losses at about 4.7 cents a pound.
Mr. Barua's company, with 35 employees, has slipped into the red this year.
India's tea producers are at a price disadvantage internationally partly because they are bound by law to pay certain minimum wages, while those in countries like Vietnam and Argentina, which compete with India's lower-grade teas, are not.
In Mr. Barua's case, his labor bill has nearly doubled in four years. In 1998, he paid laborers 49 cents for an eight-hour day. This year, he paid 87 cents. ''The margins of those manufacturers who make their own teas are being squeezed,'' said H. R. Khusrokhan, managing director of Tata Tea, India's largest tea producer.
Tata Tea acquired the Tetley Group of Britain two years ago, and the combined company ranks as the world's No. 2 tea company, after Unilever.
The Indian tea industry is also suffering because tea exports to traditional buyers like Russia have fallen in the last decade. While the Indian Tea Association had projected total exports of 473 million pounds for 2001, the total was only about 407 million.
In coming years, India's tea production is expected to be in surplus and domestic consumption stagnant. In the domestic market, some tea drinkers are being enticed away by soft drinks from abroad. Tea producers have yet to join forces to mount a strong promotion to encourage more tea drinking among Indians.
SOME tea makers are promoting individual brands, in the hope of increasing consumption. For instance, Hindustan Lever, Unilever's Indian subsidiary, ran a campaign riding on the popularity of the country's leading percussion, or tabla, player, Ustad Zakir Hussain.
In the commercial, Mr. Hussain throws out a challenge, saying he is willing to give up playing the tabla if somebody will bring him tea better than Taj Mahal, a Unilever brand.
This April, when an Indian value-added tax is introduced on tea, producers are likely to pass the levy on to consumers. Tea producers are asking the government to exempt tea from the tax, the way that essentials like milk, eggs and bread are.
The desperation in the plea is an indication that the tea industry sees even tougher times ahead. ''In a planter's life there are ups and downs,'' Mr. Chaliha said, ''but it has never been so bad.''
Price of Assam tea falls
19-May-2003 - The average price of leaf grade Assam tea fell by 10 per cent to 64.20 rupees (€1.17) per kg at the Calcutta auction last week, according to Reuters report.
A few months ago, the tea was selling for anything up to €1.82 per kg.In leaf grade orthodox teas, the average price at the auction was less than half a per cent lower at 72.32 rupees per kg compared to the previous Friday.
These figures follow months of sluggish activity within the Indian tea export market.
Iraq had been a major market until the recent conflict, and there has been increasingly stiff competition from countries such as Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
India's beleaguered tea industry has stressed the need for a regulatory authority to monitor quality of the beverage to help arrest the sharp plunge in tea prices and save planters from ruin.
Many tea industry experts believe that a decline in quality of Indian tea has led to the crash in prices.
The Assam government is soon expected to convene a meeting of tea industry captains, experts and federal commerce ministry officials.
Assam accounts for 55 per cent of the country's total annual production of 806 million kg.
Tea Industry (largest industry in Assam)
First tea plantation started in Assam: 1835 Land under plantation in 1871: 300,000 acres Land under plantation in 1981: 494,000 acres Yield in 1933: 99 million kilograms Yield in 1938: 118 million kilograms Yield in 1982: 303 million kilograms No of plantations in 1971: 750 No of plantations in 1981: 777 Number of people employed in 1938: 486,250 Number of people employed in 1942: 497,106 Number of people employed in 1980: 449,000 Number of people dependent on tea industry (current): about 12-15% of Assam's population Guwahati Tea Auction Center (GTAC) inaugurated: Sep 25, 1970
Sale at GTAC in 1971-72: 21,998 thousand kilograms Sale at GTAC in 1974-75: 26,626 thousand kilograms Sale at GTAC in 1980: 6,256,000 thousand kilograms Sale at GTAC in 1981: 6,497,000 thousand kilograms Sale at GTAC in 1982: 7,534,000 thousand kilograms Assam tea - History
There exists a 10-th century CE Sanskrit medical text from Assam called Nidana that mentions leaves called shamapatra from which shamapani is made. Historians are conflicted as to whether this is the first mention of tea in India.
Before the commercialization of tea began in Assam, the leaves of the tea plant were chewed by the local villagers with little processing. This continues in certain inaccessible regions near Assam.
Assam tea - Beginning
Robert Bruce is said to have discovered the tea plant growing wild in the region. According to another account, the Assamese nobleman, Maniram Dewan, lead Robert Bruce to the plant in 1823. Before his death in 1825, Bruce passed on his knowledge to his brother Charles, who sent seeds of the plant to Calcutta in 1831. In 1833 the British lost the monopoly of the Tea trade with China and the Tea Committee dispatched the secretary George Gordon to China to study the methods and begin tea plantation in Assam. He returned with the Chinese variety and workers. Imported labor from Bihar and Orissa would later form a significant demographic group in Assam. It was found that the local variety of plant was more suited to the local climate. Crossing with the Chinese tea plant led to Indian hybrid tea, which has great variability and vigour. This has been called the most important evolution of the commercial tea plant.
On May 8, 1838 350 pounds (159 kg) of Assam tea were dispatched to London, and sold at India House, London on January 10, 1839. Drinkers were impressed with the tea, and the tea industry in Assam was born. Charles Bruce and others, including Maniram Dewan, began clearing the jungles and establishing tea estates.
On February 26, 1858 Maniram Dewan, the sole native tea planter, was hanged on charges of conspiracy and participation in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 against the British on the basis of an intercepted letter.
Assam tea - Modern Developments in the Tea Industry
Today, Assam produces more than half the tea grown in India. On the international market, Assam Tea can be identified by the official logo chosen by the Tea Board of India. Most Assam tea is sold through the Auction Centre at Guwahati.
Since the tea industry in Assam was established, most tea has been planted unselected by seed using the same practices as in the 19th century. The industry continued to grow slowly but steadily during the 20th century.
In the 1970s small scale tea cultivators with farms smaller than one hectare began growing tea. Cultivation on small farms increased during the 1990s and today accounts for over 10% of the tea produced in Assam. Tea cultivation remains a vital industry in the region employing 17% of the workforce.
Recently, India's tea industry has faced a crisis with prices dropping due to reduced exports and domestic consumption. However, Assam tea exports to the United States are expected to increase as more Americans are drinking tea and seeking higher quality.
About Tea Plant (Camellia sinensis)
Camellia sinensis is the tea plant, the plant species whose leaves and leaf buds are used to produce tea. It is of the genus Camellia (Chinese: 茶花; pinyin: Cháhuā), a genus of flowering plants in the family Theaceae, native to eastern, southern and south eastern Asia. White tea, green tea, oolong and black tea are all harvested from this species, but are processed differently to attain different levels of oxidation. Kukicha (twig tea) is also harvested from camellia sinensis, but uses twigs and stems rather than leaves.
The name sinensis means Chinese in Latin. Camellia is taken from the Latinized name of Rev. Georg Kamel, S.J. (1661-1706), a Czech-born Jesuit priest who became both a prominent botanist and a missionary to the Philippines (it is not uncommon for members of the Catholic Jesuit order to combine careers in scholarship with their religious work). Though Kamel did not discover or name the plant, Karl von Linnaeus, the creator of the system of taxonomy still used today, chose his name for the genus of this tree to honor kamel's contributions to science. Older names for the tea plant include Thea bohea, Thea sinensis and Thea viridis.
Camellia sinensis is native to mainland South and Southeast Asia, but is today cultivated across the world, in tropical and subtropical regions. It is an evergreen shrub or small tree that is usually trimmed to below two metres (six feet) when cultivated for its leaves. It has a strong taproot. The flowers are yellow-white, 2.5–4 cm in diameter, with 7 to 8 petals.
The seeds of Camellia sinensis and Camellia oleifera can be pressed to yield tea oil, a sweetish seasoning and cooking oil that should not be confused with tea tree oil, an essential oil that is used for medical and cosmetical purposes and originates from the leaves of a different plant.
Camellia sinensis plant, with cross-section of the flower (lower left) and seeds (lower right).
Camellia sinensis plant, with cross-section of the flower (lower left) and seeds (lower right).
The leaves are 4–15 cm long and 2–5 cm broad. Fresh leaves contain about 4% caffeine. The young, light green leaves are preferably harvested for tea production; they have short white hairs on the underside. Older leaves are deeper green. Different leaf ages produce differing tea qualities, since their chemical compositions are different. Usually, the tip (bud) and the first two to three leaves are harvested for processing. This hand picking is repeated every one to two weeks.
The three most common types of tea are green, oolong and black (others include yellow, white, compressed and flavoured teas). All use the same leaves of the same plant. Green tea is steamed (Japanese method) or roasted (Chinese method) very soon after picking to stop the oxidation process. Oolong tea is left to oxidize a bit longer and is the type used by most Chinese restaurants. Black tea is oxidized for the longest period of time which produces the darkest of the teas. White tea, a delicacy in the orient now beginning to be found in Western shops, is made from "tea needles," the newest, still folded shoots of leaves at the end of branches. Further distinctions are made to denote the size of the leaves used (the youngest, smallest leaves are generally held to have the highest quality flavor), and the region of origin (in much the same way wine is classified).
Camellia sinensis is mainly cultivated in tropical and sub-tropical climates, in areas with at least 50 inches of rainfall a year. However, it is commercially cultivated from the equator to as far north as Cornwall on the UK mainland. Many high quality teas are grown at high elevations, up to 1500 meters (5,000 ft), as the plants grow more slowly and acquire a better flavor.
Tea plants will grow into a tree if left undisturbed, but cultivated plants are pruned to waist height for ease of plucking. Two principal varieties are used, the small-leaved Chinese variety plant (C. sinensis sinensis) and the large-leaved Assamese plant (C. sinensis assamica), used mainly for Black tea.
Several varieties of C. sinensis are used for tea production:
The most volume comes from the Assam variety (sometimes called C. sinensis var. assamica or C. assamica), predominantly grown in the Assam region. It is a small tree (single stemmed) with large leaves. In the wild it reaches a height of 6 to 20 meters (20–65 feet) and is native to north-east India, Myanmar, Vietnam, and south China. In tea estates it is kept trimmed to just above waist level. A lowland plant, it requires a high rainfall but good drainage. It does not tolerate extreme temperatures. Discovered in 1823 (though used earlier by local people in their brews), it is one of the two original tea plants. All Assam teas and most Ceylon teas are from this plant. The Assam plant produces malty, earthy drinks, unlike the generally flowery yield of the China plant.