Commercial tea plantations in the country were first established by the British East India Company, which led to large-scale production of the traditionally brewed native tea variety of north-eastern Indians. When introduced, tea was a high-status drink. But the booming production and consumption over decades made it economical for everyone to savor the concoction today.
Indian tea that is a global favorite comes from Darjeeling in West Bengal, and Assam. Most tea varieties found in the country are named after the regions they are cultivated. Due to its geographical origin, Darjeeling tea became the first Indian product to receive a Geographical Indication tag in 2004-2005. Most of the best selling tea brands procure tea leaves from specific tea estates to retain their quality and authenticity.
Tea drinking in India has evolved in many ways. While tea or “Chai” (in Hindi) is usually brewed from loose tea leaves, sugar, and milk, a variety of spices is added to make it more flavorful. Some regional favorites include masala chai, kadak chai, Bombay cutting-chai, Kashmiri kahwa, and Sulaimani chai. In the north, Kulhad chai is popular, named after the traditional, disposable, handle-less clay cup it is served in.
“Chaiwallahs” make and sell fresh tea all day, from their numerous road-side stalls throughout the country’s nooks and corners. These are widely accessible and make up an important part of the unorganized market for tea retail in India. In recent years, the rise of urbanization and the café culture has led to a diverse growth in how Indians consume tea. For instance, bubble tea and green tea have become popular in cities, along with plant-based options as substitutes where dairy was involved. Unsurprisingly, tea was the most valued beverage in retail market and was expected to continue on a steady growth path.