In the 1840’s, the steady trade in tea from China faltered. China, a somewhat reluctant trading partner, had been bullied into accepting opium from the British East India Company, in exchange for tea, and violent exchanges (the “Opium Wars”) ensued. It became clear to the British that an alternative source needed to be found to satisfy our growing demand for tea.
As it happened, Camellia sinensis plants of the assamica variety were to be found growing naturally in India. However cultivating it in commercial volume proved less easy to achieve, so a strategy of planting both seeds and young plants from China was urgently pursued.
In fact, so desperate were the British to commercialise Indian production, that they even resorted to theft of thousands of Chinese tea plants, masterminded by Kew horticulturalist Robert Fortune. Fortune had identified that the region of Darjeeling had a climate and terroir perfectly suited to the growing of these Chinese plants, and so it was that this region was selected.
What makes Darjeeling so special? Find out in the next instalment….