Chai as it is known in India is a favorite beverage across the country. If you ever travel in India by train you are sure to be woken by the chaiwala’s (Tea seller) call. Served in earthen ware, paper cups, plastic cups, or in bone china, tea is slurped with the same intensity.
Tea is native to China and the botanical name is Camellia sinensis and belongs to Theaceae family. It was introduced to the west by merchants in 16th century. Britons took fancy to the drink and introduced tea plants to India thus giving rise to tea industry. The hills and Valleys of Assam and South India are now covered with tea estates.
The earliest mention of tea drinking is mentioned in the Ramayana and the next in 10th century in China. Tea is an evergreen tree and it can grow up to 16 m (52 ft). Usually the tree is trimmed and maintained at 2 m in height. The tea plants are pruned to encourage new growth. The green leaves have white hairs on the underside and are 4–15 cm long and 2–5 cm broad.
The young leaves are hand harvested for tea production.
In India, the tea leaves pickers put on a hood and a basket is hung from their head to drop the picked leaves.
The flowers are yellow-white, 2.5–4 cm in diameter, with 7 to 8 petals. Tea Oil is derived from the seeds.
Many varieties of tea are cultivated and sold and some of them are, White, Yellow, Green, Oolong, Black, Post-Fermented.
Tea drinking ceremonies are conducted in China and Japan. Tea is brewed in different ways in different regions of the world. In Tibet, Butter is added to Tea. In India every guest is offered Tea and Biscuits.
Masala chai, Iced tea, Ginger tea, Cardamom tea, Vanilla tea, Peach tea, Jasmine tea, and Lemon tea are some of the different types of tea available.
Tea is also available in small bags that can be dunked in hot water to make the decoction.
Tea plants are propagated from seeds and cuttings. In three years the plants will be ready to hand harvest.
50 inches of rainfall a year is needed for the plants to grow well. They are planted at high altitudes at 4,900 feet above sea level.