It’s a fine evening, dusk slowly moving in, turning the blue skies a hue of gold. It’s tea time. My soul sisters and I have gathered in the veranda around a dainty wooden table for plush conversation. The best of pastries in town and the finest of Assam tea. I pour the delightful hot beverage black and light into blue and white porcelain cups. I take a sip. We begin getting nostalgic about our school days and how much fun it was to be so young! And yet how great it is to grow older in the fine company we still keep.
“ Nice tea”, one of them comments.
“It’s Assam tea… what do you expect? The world’s finest!” The other retorts.
“What would life be without my daily dose of tea?!” I say feeling the warmth of the cup on my palms and dream away.
The conversation drifts to Robert Bruce, the Scottish explorer who once found a wild tea bush growing in the countryside of Assam. He immediately thought – This is just like the one in China! What if we could grow tea… here in Assam ?! With great curiosity and enthusiasm he meets the Chief of the Singpho tribe in 1823. By then, the Singphos have been curing and drinking this brew for generations. He gets a few seeds and leaves from the Chief and manages to build a good friendship with him. He dies the next year passing on his quest to his brother Charles Bruce.
“So do we owe it to Robert Bruce or his brother Charles or the Singphos?” We laugh and wonder.
“ I mean the Singphos should be credited as well!”
It was now upto Charles Bruce to further his brothers discovery and ambition. He sent the leaves and seeds collected for testing to the Botanical Gardens in Kolkata in 1830. And ‘Wala!” We had a whole new species of tea now called Assam tea (Camellia sinensis var Assamica) and it was quite different from its relative the Chinese tea (Camellia sinensis var sinensis).
The East India Company first started growing the Chinese variety in Assam under the supervision of Charles Bruce but the experiment failed with both the varieties crossbreeding. While Bruce himself grew the wild variety of Assamica in his nursery. He sent a few leaves for tasting to Delhi and it was found by experts there to be of a very good quality.
And thus begun the journey of tea growing in Assam, with large portions of land, fertile with the loamy soil of the Brahmaputra river, being landscaped into tea estates. Investments rolled in from everywhere and the exports to Europe carried huge shipments of this increasingly popular beverage. Today, Assam is the largest growing tea region in the world with its tea blends making it into English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast Teas and many others.
We thought again of Robert Bruce, what it might have been for British explorers in the early days, traveling through the thicket of tropical India, discovering ancient sites, insects, minerals, flora and fauna. We thought how the adventure spirit in us had died over time and how we still had every scope of landing ourselves on some discovery!
We sipped on our tea. We were going to treat ourselves to some delicious Singpho cuisine for dinner!