plant whose leaves yield the tea of commerce is variously termed
Camellia Theifera; Thea Sinensis; or Chinensis; Thea Assamica; Thea
Bohea and Thea Viridis, according to its origin, variety of the
writer's fancy. While the real character of the East Indian or Assam
tea plant has been recognized by botanical science less than two
hundred years, and the Chinese tea plant has probably been utilized for
seventeen hundred years, it will be more convenient to begin our
remarks with the later discovery.
Most writers at the present time continue to describe the tea plant as
a "shrub" of about six feet in height. The indigenous tea plant of
India, which is believed to be the parent stock of Chinese tea plants,
is a tree, growing to a height of 20 to 35 feet with a trunk 8 to 10
inches in diameter, and bearing leaves of a lively green, 8 to 9 inches
in length and 4 inches in breadth. The leaves are much more delicate in
texture than those of Chinese plants, which hardly reach 4 inches in
length, and the former contain a larger percentage of the invaluable
alkaloid, Theine. Dr. Chas. U. Sheppard, in a historical sketch of Tea
Culture in South Carolina, described a tea tree which was planted
planted by Michaux, about 15 miles from Charleston, and about the year
1800, had attained a height of say 15 feet when he saw it years ago.
The native Indian tree was, however, not initially utilized upon a
commercial scale for tea purposes. The reason for neglecting the native
plant we do not find definitely stated, but infer from several sources
of information that it is owing to the extreme delicacy of constitution
of the Assam plant, its demands for excessive moisture and high
temperature, and its preference for partial shade, evidenced by its
growing in the jungle and under other trees. Possibly a difficulty in
restraining its luxuriant habit of growth was also involved. However
this may be, the commercial tea of Ceylon and India was a product of a
cultivated cross between the tender native Indian and the hardier
Chinese tea plants, in which the Assam strain bears the proportion of
one half to two thirds. A more robust plant under cultivation was the
result, and one which preserves the best qualities of both varieties.
This cross is usually termed a hybrid.
It seems probable that the removal of the tropical Indian plant to
China, more than a thousand years ago, with its much colder and dryer
climate and its poorer soil--for the best soil of China has been set
apart for rice and other indespensable foods--together with continual
removal of its leaves, have in time evolved a tea plant so different
from its parent stock, that scientists failed for many years to
recognize the Indian original. Several times in the early years of 19th
century zealous travellers and residents of India sent to England
specimens of the native Indian tea plant for scientific examination.
But conservative government officials had already established a
botanical or technical standard for the tea plant to which every
aspirant for relationship must conform; no one of them seems to have
thought of the simple test of the teapot. Finally some rash
investigator, not having the fear of scientific anathema before his
eyes, crudely cured a few leaves, and actually put them in hot water.
Tea merchants immediately recognized the plant and the magic circle of
the Circumlocution Office was smashed into bits.
Meanwhile, Chinese tea plants and Chinese experts and laborers had been
imported into India and tea gardens were well under way before the
native tea plant had been recognized. But in the ultra-tropical climate
of India, Chinese tea plants languished, and success was finally
obtained only by abandoning the stunted Chinese varieties, and getting
back nearer to the indigenous Thea Assimica; and by the introduction of
modern agricultural methods under British management, and even by the
use of machinery for rolling tea and for firing tea by currents of hot
air. Indian laborers now supersede the Chinese workmen, who were not
found sufficiently pliable in adapting themselves to European ideas.
To preserve the historical record of tea so far as possible, we will
state that while the indigenous Indian tea plant had been recognized
somewhere about the year 1820, the first serious and sustained attempts
to grow tea in India were made by Englishmen, about 1834, using Chinese
tea plants and Chinese workmen for the purpose. English authorities
differ upon the exact dates. The first shipment of English grown tea
from India to London was made in 1838; it amounted to but 60 chests,
which brought at auction in London $2.25 a pound. The second shipment
in 1839 of ninety five chests brought $2.00 a pound. In 1899 the Indian
tea crop amounted to about 175,000,000 lbs., and the size of Indian tea
gardens varied from 100 acres or less up to 4,000 acres. In 1897 the
total acreage of tea plantations in India was stated by Mr. Crole at
509,500 acres, equal to nearly 800 square miles.
Ceylon began to grow tea on a commercial scale as late as 1875, after
her coffee plantations had been ruined by disease. That year her total
acreage was about 1,000 acres, In 1883 Ceylon exported a million and a
half pounds of tea. In 1897 she had 400,000 acres of growing tea, equal
to 625 square miles; and the estimate of Mr. William MacKensie, Tea
Commissioner for the Ceylon Government, of her production for 1900, is
The aggregate exports of tea by India and Ceylon was about 310,000,000
lbs., a complete reversal of conditions of tea trade within twenty
years, and due entirely to British enterprise and the fine quality of
British grown teas.
A liberal estimate for the total exports of Chinese and Japanese teas
for 1899 would be 340,000,000 lbs.; so that it was fair to say that the
world's consumption of tea, outside of China and Japan, was than
equally divided between teas of the latter two countries and those of
Famous Tea Circular - Garway's Famous Circular was so often
quoted and mutilated that we print it here in full; it has no date, but
it is supposed to have been printed in 1660.