Today, chai is a recognizable drink from India. However, it was not always the most popular drink. Tea has a long, arduous relationship with India that began when it was first introduced by the British. The British Empire increased as did their appreciation for tea. The colonization of India by the British encouraged an independence movement which provided the means for tea cultivation and also allowed the tea to grow and develop into an official drink of the nation.

From China to India

In the 1890s Britain had become one of the top tea consumers around the globe. The art of making and drinking tea originated from the ancient times of China and was utilized for medical reasons. It was the British East India Company that established the opium poppy farm in India in which they were grown for a small price and then traded to purchase Chinese tea which was later exported to Britain to help fund their tea consumption. But, Chinese authorities were worried that the population would be addicted to opium. This caused the Opium Wars, a series of wars that erupted in the middle 1800s, between China as well as Britain (Lutgendorf 13-14). In addition, tea was not coming from China was not produced in large plantations but instead by families of individuals, who produced various qualities and quantities of tea (Collingham, 1903). The British keen tea lovers felt not satisfied with the tea and sought superior tea from other sources.

Assam Tea Plantation

The year was 1823. Robert Bruce, a British agent noticed the people of Assam, India drinking what seemed to be tea. Bruce sent a letter to his older brother Charles Bruce, who alerted the British police to the findings of his brother. Ten years later Lieutenant Andrew Charlton was able to convince authorities to inquire into the possibility of establishing tea farms in India and was later awarded the award of a medal for his discoveries which was a surprise to Bruce (Collingham 190, 1909). This led to the formation of The British East India Company which established tea plants in India. But the tea produced in Assam wasn’t enough for the British and so they brought in tea plantations and producers from China to help cultivate the soil. However, it was found that the Chinese tea wasn’t suitable for the terrain of Assam and a poor quality blend that was a mix of Chinese tea and Assam tea was developed (Smith 425).

Assam Tea Takes Off

The British acknowledged that their attempts to replicate Chinese tea from Assam proved futile, so they employed indentured workers from other areas in India to create Assam tea. In the year 1839, sufficient tea had been made to fill twelve chests that were auctioned at auction in London. This was the very first auction marketing method that was successful, and it was an enormous success (Lutgendorf 20.). The British were awed by the bitter, strong tea. Over the next few decades, tea prices fell and a lot of Indians left tea production. The 1860s saw the number of tea plantations in India rise tenfold. At the same time, the establishment of plantations by the British East India Company within India showed the fact that India was now a component of the British Empire. Its Indian tea industry is not without its challenges, but it eventually stabilized in the 1870s and began to create a consistent, top-quality tea that could be sold at an income (Wiley 45,).

“Coolie Catchers”

However, “progress” always comes with a cost. Tea plantations were not tranquil places to work. The “coolie catchers” were the owners of the plantation who employed desperate peasants to do the work. Many of them died on the way to the plantation, and it was carried out in cramped conditions, which facilitated the spread of illness. The workers of the plantations were stricken by malnutrition, abuse, and illness, mostly malaria. With their corrupt labor practices, the Indians demonstrated the extent to which British capitalist ideology has permeated the society of a colony of the Crown (Collingham 210,) In the year 1901, the Tea Association of India decided to provide tea to a limited number of Indians. They started a long-running campaign, which included offering teacups away at no cost or at a cheap cost. A lot of Indians were interested and the drink quickly became popular However, despite the great success the campaign was stopped in 1904. Tea in India was gradually becoming more well-known and was being compared over other beverages because it was a foreign product. Indians also consumed buttermilk as well as milk-based drinks and juices that were harder to make than tea (Lutgendorf 15).

The Beginnings of Lipton Tea

When India could produce an unchanging product that was consistent, they increased their marketing by tenfold. Indians went to colonial fairs in other countries to promote and distributed teacups and spoons. Of all the places, Britain and Australia were the most responsive and appreciated the rich taste of tea. A notable British who was awed by it was Thomas Lipton, who is the founder company known as the Lipton tea business. (Collingham, 200). Thomas Lipton found a way to earn substantial profits from the tea. He purchased tea directly from India in large quantities and offered it at just a quarter of its usual price in his cafes located in London. The advertisement he used to promote tea was a natural outcome of a partnership that was formed between India as well as Britain. It depicts the group comprising British as well as Indian officials chatting over a cup of tea. The background is filled with factories, which were intended to increase the industrial character of Britain and illustrate that India was becoming more industrialized. Indian tea business was growing increasingly industrialized (Smith, 433).

The ad, though stunning, it is telling the wrong story of the tea industry in India. Tea isn’t a collaborative venture between India and Britain it is a monopoly where Britain is a victim to India for its people, land, and resources. Thomas Lipton even hired Indian people to sit outside his stores and promote in order to get people to stop by and sip tea. Indians weren’t willing to be employed by Lipton but they were desperate for jobs and had the option of. For some, it’s working for a low-paying job or no job and zero pay.

When tea was established as an export from India The elite started to consume tea. The upper classes and the Bhramin caste were the sole Indians who could afford the tea, cups, teapots, saucers, and milk pots, as well as everything else required to drink it properly. Tea was very ritualized and you needed cups and teapots as well as saucers for making and drinking it. The upper class could also afford to have someone cook it for them, which meant they didn’t need to be taught how to prepare it themselves (Lutgendorf 20).

Indian Consumption of Chai-The Beginning


In the 20th century, The Tea Cess Committee was established in India in order to promote tea to the local population. They handed out tea at no cost and also sold tea bags made of lower-grade leaves for an affordable price to those living in towns. Despite the aggressive marketing strategies tea wasn’t as popular in India as one would expect and 90 percent of tea that was produced in India was sold to export. However, this was drastically altered in the aftermath of the Great Depression, which caused a significant reduction in the cost of tea (Wiley 45,).

In the Great Depression, there were fewer people buying tea from India and this resulted in an oversupply of 100 thousand pounds. In 1939, the Indian Market Expansion Board was established, a division from the Tea Cess Committee, which was created to create an entirely new marketplace for tea from India. Similar to previous campaigns, the public was given tea for free in vans, and also sold cheap tea leaves (Collingham 205, Collingham). They hung colorful advertisements in the major railway stations and other places of interest in towns and provided instructions on how to prepare your perfect tea this was method the British created tea, by brewing tea leaves using water and then serving the tea with sugar and milk. The Board also put together a tea magazine to keep Indians informed of the most recent developments and events within the world of tea (Smith 427).

In World War I tea stalls were a common sight near factories and other industrial locations. Managers of factories were instructed by TCC to let their employees have tea breaks in order to keep their content. Workers in factories were exhausted from their work and a cup of tea with sugar and milk was estimated to have around forty calories. It also gave workers the energy they needed to work. Tea was like a habit-forming drug, and “would make Indians more alert, energetic, and punctual”(Lutgendorf, 22). Industrial workers were provided with the appearance of personal authority. However, they were also given breaks to help them become more productive and feed into the developing tea industry.

The Cut, Tear, and Curl Machine

Industrialization led to the development of a new device, known as the Cut, Tear, as well as Curl machines. The CTC made a strong tea that rapidly oxidized. The initial CTC was invented in 1930 was bulky and prone to fail for tea manufacturers (Saberi 50). However, in the 1950s, a different CTC was created that had an elongated block that was lighter and simpler to use. It allowed tea plantations to hire fewer workers and also produce more tea and let tea be offered at a lower cost. A sliding block CTC enabled the Indian tea trade to grow (Collingham, the year 206).

Indian Independence and the Chai movement

In the aftermath of World War 11, tea was no longer considered to be foreign, but indigenous and linked to an Indian Independence movement. Since tea was becoming more popular, the methods of making tea drastically changed. Indians discovered that instead of steeping tea in a pot and serving it with sugar and milk they could boil the tea as well as milk, water along sugar till the drink was rust-colored, creamy, and full-bodied. This technique allowed them to make use of fewer tea leaves as well as to include spices like cinnamon, cardamom along black pepper. Indians mixed their tea with indigenous flavors to create unique beverages that went against the traditional method of making tea (Lutgendorf 28).

In the last decade of the twentieth century, Indians were beginning to set up tea establishments. Tea shops were areas where men could gather without regard to their caste. In India the caste system was strict. The system made it impossible for people of different social standings from being able to communicate with each other, eat from the same dishware, or go to the same restaurants. Because tea was considered to be a foreign drink as it was, it wasn’t restricted by the caste system and was able to be enjoyed by anyone. Tea shops became a venue where people could socialize and males were more likely to violate rules of caste often than women. Although most people were permitted to tea shops, those who were untouchable were not permitted and were required to be away from other customers and drink from plastic cups (Collingham, 1924,).

Munshi Annada

Chai refers to Urdu meaning tea. Chai has become increasingly sought-after in India it was subsequently synonymous with Indian independence because it brought the Indians to one another through the passion for tea. In addition, a new trend was born, known as Swadeshi that was created in the time of Indian independence. It was a way of buying indigenously-made products and banning products from abroad. Chai was a key aspect in Swadeshi. Swadeshi movement.

Chai Wallahs in Modern India

Chai wallahs play an integral element in Indian culture. It refers to Urdu meaning tea vendor Chai wallahs can be found everywhere in India and are preparing chai on taking orders. Chai is consumed almost every meal, and it is considered to be the national beverage of India therefore chai wallahs are an integral part of daily life in India. Chai is more than only a drink, but it is also a way of preparation that includes everything from grinding the spices, boiling the tea to telling tales over tea.

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