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Assam is the largest tea growing region in India, which contributes approx of fifty-two percent of the country's total tea production.
Ever since tea was discovered in Assam in 1823, all the credits were taken away by the Bruce brothers. The world knew Robert Bruce to discover tea in Assam (the Northeastern region of India) whereas very little knew that, the Singpho were the ones who used tea as herbal drink much before British discovered it.
In fact when Robert Bruce once fell ill during one of his expeditions, the Singphos offered him the same herbal drink which was later discovered to be tea.
It was Maniram Dewan who directed him to the local Singpho chief Bessa Gam. When Robert Bruce met Singpho chief Beesa Gam in his quest to discover tea, the tribe not only taught him the local way to grow these profitable yielding leaves but also helped him understand the different kind of teas. But unfortunately, the same chief was charged for taking part in the 1857 revolt against the British and was jailed for life time and sent to Kalapani in Andaman.
Maniram Dutta Baruah popularly known as Maniram Dewan was the first Indian to start planting tea in Assam. He was a Dewan (chief administrative and financial officer) of Assam Company until he resigned in 1841 to start his own tea estate.
But the British hanged him in 1858 for taking part in the mutiny of 1857. After Maniram Dewan's pioneering efforts, many others, mostly Assamese, came forward to plant tea.
The leaves of the Assam tea bush are dark green and glossy and fairly wide compared to those of the Chinese tea plant, producing delicate white blossoms.
Robert Bruce died shortly after sending some tea plants for testing even before the plant was properly classified. Later in 1830s Robert's brother, Charles, arranged for a few leaves from the Assam tea bush to be sent to the botanical gardens in Calcutta for proper examination. There, the plant was finally identified as a variety of tea, or Camellia sinensis, but different from the Chinese variety.
The discovery of tea plant in Assam enabled the East India Company to develop a trade, which China had hitherto monopolized for a long time.
The first consignment of twelve boxes of tea manufactured by the Singphos of Arunachal, were shipped from Calcutta to London in 1835.
Charles Bruce was later appointed as the superintendent of the tea forests of the government of Great Britain, who in 1837 sent forty-six boxes of Assam tea to the tea committee.
The biggest research centre of tea in the world, situated in Jorhat, is Tocklai Tea Research Institute.
According to another report, Assam has over 800 organized tea plantations that are of medium to large size. There are also over 100,000 small-scale cooperative and individual tea farms. On an average, Assam produces over 600 million kilogram of tea per year, making it one of the largest tea growing region in the world.
The tea industry in Assam plays a very important role in the state's economy, both in terms of revenue and employment. Owing to its distinct character and taste, Assam tea holds a unique position in the tea industry.