Tea is an ever green perennial crop and the most preferred beverage in the world next to the water, “The Adams Wine”. As a beverage, it needs no introduction as it has been recognized long ago. The word “Tea“ comes from Amoy lanuage T’e while “Cha” is derived from Cantonese. The oldest record of tea starts with Chinese Empereor Shen Nung a scholar and herbalist who lived around 2737BC during the time of Tang dynasty in China. However, it spread over to other parts of the world only during the 17th century. Tea is believed to have originated from south east Asia and is indigenous to a vast fan shaped area bordering north west Assam, in thenorth east by China coast and in the south by southern Cambodia and Vietnam. From its original home in south east Asia, tea spread to different parts of the world and now it has been cultivated commercially in more than 80 countries locate4d all over the continents. A brief note of certain tea growing nations is given hereunder.
As mentioned earlier, Dr. Christie was the first to experiment with the growing of tea plants in the Nilgiris in 1832 and some of his plants were distributed to various parts of the Nilgiri hills for trial. In 1834 a few plants grown from the seeds brought from China were again planted in these hills. The earliest record of commercial planting in Kerala was in Peermade during 1875. The development of Kanan Devan Hills by James Finlay and Co. in 1878 with tea as an exclusive crop is a landmark in the history of tea planting in this part of the country. Soon, tea cultivation caught up in Wayanad and by 1889 planting was taken up on a large scale in the district. In the Anamallais (Coimbatore Dist.), the actual opening of tea estates was around 1897. Karnataka came into the tea map, rather recently.
The widespread occurrence of the leaf rust (Hemilia vastatrix Berk & Br.) of coffee and the consequent decline of the coffee industry was a major factor responsible for the extensive planting of tea in south India. The tea growing tracks of south India, extending along the Western Ghats, vary in their elevation from 300 to 2,300 m above MSL and experience an annual rainfall ranging from 90-750 cm. These plantations, with their adjoining forest ecosystem contribute greatly to the maintenance of terrestrial ecology by providing extensive land cover and minimizing soil erosion.
Tea belongs to the family Camelliaceae and all the cultivated tea plants belong to two distinct species, viz., Camellia sinensis (L). O. Kuntze, the short leaved ‘China’ plants and Camellia assamica (Masters) Wight, the broad leaved ‘Assam’ plants. The ‘Cambod’ variety, a subspecies of the latter, is named C. assamica lasiocalyx (Planchon exWatt) Wight. The ‘China’, ‘Assam’ and ‘Cambod’ and a large number of their hybrids are seen in many tea fields. It is believed that many wild species of teas have also contributed to the present day hybrid population of cultivated tea plants.
Tea prefers a warm humid climate, well distributed rainfall and long sunshine days. A soil pH below 6.0 is essential for establishing tea successfully and moderately good tea can be grown on soils with pH values between 4.5 and 5.5. Under natural conditions, this plant grows to a small tree but brought into a bush form by pruning at regular intervals for the convenience of plucking and for harvesting optimum vegetative growth.