The fascinating tea history of Tripura
Tripura's tea connections are unlike those of any other: Tea began with Indian planters; it didn’t come with the British
One day, Rajiv Pincha, a tea planter, got in touch. His tea garden, Harendranagar, is in Tripura. Strange as it may sound, it was the first time I was speaking to someone with links to Tripura. More than the tea, I was eager to hear about the place. Pincha WhatsApped photographs of his garden for a vicarious view of the place.
Sometime later, I spoke to Rudra Chatterjee of Luxmi Tea, which owns tea gardens in Tripura, and he narrated a fascinating bit of history: The reason Tripura is not famous for tea, he said, is because most of the original kingdom, including Sylhet, a significant tea-growing area, went to Bangladesh. However, its tea connections are unlike those of any other: Tea began with Indian planters; it didn’t come with the British.
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Chatterjee’s own grandfather, P.C. Chatterjee, lived in Cumilla, the main town in British-ruled Tripura. A nationalist, he spent some time in the infamous Kala Pani, or Cellular Jail. In 1912, he began tea cultivation at Pearacherra in north Tripura. His company, Indian Tea and Provisions, became a symbol of rebellion and self-reliance.
The king, Birendra Kishore Manikya (reign 1909-23), refused to allow British planters, in a gesture of support for the freedom movement. Eventually, Partition, and the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, saw Tripura losing access to its closest rail connections, the beginning of a growing distance from the rest of the country. Then came the period of insurgency—and tea cultivation suffered further.
Yet tea remains the state’s second largest industry. Tripura has 53 operational gardens, 21 tea factories, 3,000 small growers cultivating 6,885 hectares and producing about nine million kilograms of tea. Their black CTC tea and green tea are sold in auctions and go on to become part of blends.
One of the things that’s worked for it is the cooperative model. The Durgabari Tea Estate Workers Cooperative Society, a model today, was set up in 1978 to revive a failing garden. It’s one of about 11 cooperative gardens and four cooperative factories in the state.
Early this month, Tripura’s brew made it to the news when a hand-rolled black tea by the Neermahal brand sold for ₹12,500 a kilogram. It was produced by Sumedha Das, a fourth-generation tea planter who leased a tea factory last year and is learning to make great teas.
Diganta Barman, posted to Tripura as assistant director of the Tea Board in 2017 and now also working as a tea consultant, is attempting to create a brand for Tripura’s tea, working with small growers and tea makers like Das. Meanwhile, Pincha continues to WhatsApp photographs of his experiments in tea. I hope the day is not far when we will start seeing Tripura’s teas in the market.
Tripura tea is not available easily. If you are interested, write to Diganta Barman at wildandexoticaorganic.com or email@example.com.
Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.