The British were able to negotiate excellent conditions following their victory in the Opium Wars. However, they were still dependant on China as sole producer of tea. The Chinese themselves were having a difficult time meeting the soaring English requirements even as they were being called on to satisfy the growing local demand.
As of 1778, the East India Company resolved to introduce tea growing in the Indian colonies, whose tropical climate resembled China's. In order to do this, they had first to acquire seeds, and then to recruit skilled manpower. But the Chinese guarded their secrets jealously, and any person discovered revealing them could be put to death. It was left to Robert Fortune, botanist and explorer, to travel twice to China incognito, in Chinese disguise, and to return with the needed plants and information.
Even as the new tea-growing experiments were getting underway, explorers discovered tea plants growing wild in the northeast regions of India, in Assam. The Assam Society was founded in 1839, and in the same year twelve crates were sold at the first auction of Indian teas. In 1841, the quantity of tea sold had ballooned to a total of 15 tons, demonstrating how truly phenomenal had been the growth in tea production.
©1996: Centre d'histoire de Montréal
Picture source: Centre d'histoire de Montréal