India Finds New Advocate for Naming Tea the National Drink

JORHAT, Assam, India

Advocates for naming tea the national drink of India this week orchestrated a significant advance in their decades’ long pursuit of the designation.

A day after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was urged by the Assam government to declare tea as a national drink, Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia pledged to champion the plea during the Platinum Jubilee celebration of the Assam Tea Planters’ Association.

In his remarks he invoked the name of Maniram Dewan, India’s first tea planter and a martyr hanged by the British during colonial rule following the 1857 uprising in Assam. Dewan who was born Jorhat on April 17, 1806, was in his teens when one day in Calcutta, when he heard a group of British merchants discuss the profitability of the tea business in China. Dewan told the group, which included Scotsman Robert Bruce, that the same bushes were grown by the Singpho tribe in Assam. In 1823 Bruce established the first British East Indies gardens in Assam.

“The Assam tea industry has indeed a glorious past and beginning with a native person (Maniram), who from the royal post of dewan (minister) of Ahom monarchy, had set up a plantation and became not only the first non-British planter but also gave stiff competition to British planters,” Ahluwalia said.

He pledged to have the designation by April 17, 2013 to coincide with the 212th birthday of the leader of the Sepoy Mutiny, India’s first war of independence, Ahluwalia said.

Dewan set up Cinnamara tea estate in 1845 after resigning from his post of dewan with the British-instituted Assam Tea Company, the first tea firm in the state. Dewan played a leading role in Assam’s politics during the early British rule, initially helping the British rulers establish peace with various tribes and chieftains, after two Burmese invasions. He subsequently led a movement seeking independence that was brutally quelled with many civilian deaths. Dewan was hanged in 1857.

The fact that tea has a nationalist and patriot as one of the pioneers in the evolution of the industry makes it a fitting case, said Ahluwalia, who noted 83 percent of Indians drink tea. Two other beverages are vying for the designation. Coffee is favored among South India politicians and the Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation advocates milk as the national drink.

“I shall go back (to Delhi) and personally take up the case with the ministry or department responsible for granting the coveted tag,” Ahluwalia said at the packed auditorium of Tocklai Experimental Station, the oldest and largest tea research centre near the historic Cinnamara tea garden set up by Dewan.” ATPA, formed in 1937, is the oldest tea association of indigenous tea planters in the country.

“Symbolism apart, the declaration will be a good idea for bolstering marketing of lndian tea,” Chairman of the North Eastern Tea Association Bidyananda Barkakoty told the Calcutta Telegraph.

Barkakoty said that naming tea the national drink will strengthen people’s emotional attachment to the popular beverage.  The new status would be a major impetus to the effort to establish Indian tea as a national brand, he said.

 “Tea is accepted as a health drink the world over. This fact, coupled with the national drink tag, would also attract the large youth population of the country towards this health beverage,” he said.  

Tea is the national drink of China, Iran, the United Kingdom and Egypt and mint tea is the national drink of Morocco.  Indians drink more tea than any nation.

Source: Calcutta Telegraph, India Today

Dan Bolton

About Dan Bolton

Dan Bolton edits STiR Tea & Coffee Industry International. He was formerly editor and publisher of World Tea News and former editor and publisher of Tea Magazine and former editor-in-chief of Specialty Coffee Retailer. He is a beverage retail consultant and frequent speaker at industry seminars and conferences. His work has appeared in many beverage publications. He was a newspaper reporter and editor for 20 years prior to his career in magazines. Dan is the founding editor of Natural Food magazine and has led six publishing ventures since 1995. He lives in Winnipeg, Canada.