Say Darjeeling, and your listener is bound to reply tea. The association is well deserved. Darjeeling produces the world's most aromatic variety of tea. The unusual mixture of soil, altitude, sunshine, rainfall and the character of the people help Darjeeling produce the most fragrant of teas. Thus, good Darjeeling tea is indeed the champagne of teas.
It was around 1834 when Lord William Bentinck appointed a committee "to consider the question of importing seeds and plants from China; to decide upon the most favorable localities for growing them..."
Around 1835 seedlings and tea seeds were distributed to various parts of India, mostly in the hilly regions of the country.
The local people soon learnt the trade and continued to work in most of the factories. Some Europeans like Dr. Grant, The Barnes Brother, Capt. Masson, Capt. Samler, Mr. Smith. Dr. Brougham, Mr. Martin, Mr. James White, Mr. George Christison as well as a local resident Mr. Bhagatbir Rai were some of the pioneers of Darjeeling tea, planting and manufacturing tea in different parts of Darjeeling. By 1866 Darjeeling had 39 tea estates covering about 405 hectares.
Mr. W. O'Brien Ansell, a very competent engineer, further helped the growth of the tea industry in Darjeeling by using the first power driven tea roller and tea sorters. He was also the first engineer to survey a hydro-electric scheme for the electrification of Darjeeling town and he installed turbines on many tea estates of the
Darjeeling. By 1872 this completely revolutionized tea manufacture.
By the 1960s a lot of replanting was done. By 1966 Tea Research Association had opened the Clonal Proving Station, making clones of selected plants for selective re-plantation.Visits to the tea plantations and factories allow a wonderful insight into the current and past history of this famous export.