The Indian Culture Series explores traditions, concepts and innovations that originated in India but are not credited to India. The goal of this series is to take a journey through India’s cultural past and analyse its transformation over the years.
India has the largest number of tea consumers in the world and the country is the largest producer of tea in the world. Chai – tea blended with milk and spices is known around the world as being quintessentially Indian. However, drinking tea with milk is a bad idea. Tea just doesn’t offer up its antioxident awesomeness with milk in it! Also, milk isn’t as nutritious as was earlier believed. It is difficult to rationalise that the creators of Ayurveda would regularly consume such an unhealthy beverage.
No need to rationalise – tea with milk in it is a British concept. It’s exhausting to face the daily remnants of the British Raj that have now become ingrained in India’s culture. From the God-like reverence of white skin to the dismissal of people that don’t speak fluent English, the British Raj has left its prejudices for Indians to use against each other. In fact, I don’t think any Commonwealth nation is less proud of its culture and heritage as India is. It is not only deeply saddening but I also feel ashamed when I see people mistreat each other or poke fun at each other because of their skin colour or English accent.
India’s history with tea before the British Raj was to use it as medicine, in small quantities and without milk. The first record of tea consumption in India was during the 3rd century BC as read in the Ramayana. Ayurveda has long promoted tea for its healing properties and tulsi, elaichi, pudina teas have been used to treat ailments for many centuries. All these teas were served without milk.
Enter the British Raj. During the Mughal empire, many of the elite in the Mughal court would consume tea in small quantities. Tea was expensive since it was shipped into India from China. During this time, China had a monopoly over tea production which the British were eager to break. In 1835 the East India company established tea plantations of an indigenous variety of tea in Assam and the North Eastern states in India. In 1865, tea was planted in Darjeeling and by 1888, India had become the biggest exporter of tea in the world, exporting all the tea to the West. At this time the main consumers of tea were not Indians but the British. However, that changed when the Great Depression hit most of the western world.
With a suppressed demand for tea in Britain, the British Raj targeted India to support its tea sales. From there began an aggressive marketing campaign that included free tea samples at railway stations, promotional literature and posters explaining the “correct” aka British way to drink tea.
A powerful marketing strategy transformed India from a culture that understood and celebrated the medicinal properties of tea without milk into a culture that now mainly drinks unhealthy milk tea.
However, there is a growing trend among health conscious Indians to replace their daily chai for green tea. Tulsi and other herbal teas are also making a serious comeback with companies like Organic India introducing numerous blends.
How do you prefer to drink your tea? Also, comment below if there are any other topics you would like me to explore!