Indigenous Tea Makers of India

Learn about the Tangsas and Singphos, original and age-old tea brewing communities from Arunachal Pradesh, India.

By Banglanatak

Tea - a daily beverage of Indians (2022)Banglanatak

Tea, the elixir of India

Tea is the most popular hot beverage in India, and is consumed daily in almost all houses, in domestic and official surroundings, and offered to guests.  

Tea - a daily beverage of Indians (2022)Banglanatak

It is usually made with milk, but is also taken in its liquor form, which is the infusion made by brewing or steeping tea leaves in water. Tea may be flavoured with sugar and spices according to the likings of the consumers.

Tea plant of north east India (2015)Banglanatak

Historical records show that the tea plant was a wild plant native to north-east India. This Indian variety of tea plant is called Camellia Sinensis. 

The leaves of this variety of tea bush are dark green, fairly wide, and glossy. 

Tangsa man processing tea in their traditional method (2022)Banglanatak

Centuries old tea culture of India

Indigenous tea was traditionally brewed inside bamboo tubes, and consumed by the indigenous communities of north-east India, namely Singphos and Tangsas, since the early 12th century. 

The Singphos (2022)Banglanatak

Introducing the original tea makers of India: The Singphos

The Singphos have been historically recognised as the first tea brewers of India, who also introduced the native plant to the British. 

The Singpho women (2022)Banglanatak

Believed to have migrated from the upper Myanmar and northern Thailand centuries back, they currently reside in the eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh namely in Lohit and Changlang districts. 

Seen here are the women of Lewang village of Changlang district.

A Tangsa man pouring brewed bamboo tea (2022)Banglanatak

Introducing native tea makers of India: The Tangsas

The Tangsas continue to practice this indigenous bamboo tea-making till date. A Tangsa man from New Yumchum village of Changlang district is seen here pouring their traditional smoked bamboo tea.

Tangsa women in their traditional attire (2022)Banglanatak

The Tangsas reside mostly in the Dihing Patkai region of the Changlang district. They believe that they migrated from Mongolia, Yunnan and Myanmar, many centuries back.

Map of Changlang DistrictBanglanatak

The habitats of Tangsas and Singphos

The Changlang district, located in the south-eastern part of Arunachal Pradesh, shares borders with Myanmar and China. Tangsas live in Changlang, while Singphos are spread across Changlang and Lohit districts, shown in the map.

Snow-capped Patkai Hills in eastern Arunachal Pradesh (2022)Banglanatak

The Dihing Patkai region of Changlang has a gorgeous landscape with snow capped  Patkai hills that form the natural border between India and Myanmar.

Noa Dehing river (2022)Banglanatak

The beautiful Noa Dihing river cuts from east to west the pristine forest landscape between the Dapha bum range and the Patkai range.

Tangsa man processing tea in their traditional method (2022)Banglanatak

Traditional tea making process of Tangsas and Singphos

The uniqueness of this indigenous bamboo tea lies in the processing of tea leaves  over open fire, following their traditional method. This helps in natural preservation of the roasted dry tea for many years, and also renders a special smoky flavour. 

In this video, one can see the complete traditional process of making bamboo tea. 

Indigeneous cooking space of the Tangsas (2022)Banglanatak

Owing to their very rich traditional knowledge of local vegetation and their integral link to nature, they are experts in using different types of local bamboo, and themselves cut and prepare them for cooking.

A Tangsa woman enjoying bamboo tea (2022)Banglanatak

They drink this tea daily as it is supposed to have medicinal values. The beverage has a smoky flavour and can be consumed at any time of the day. 

Tea and Buddhism (2022)Banglanatak

Tea and Buddhism

Owing to the medicinal value of tea, it has an old association with Buddhism too. In fact, it is believed that tea was first used as a natural medicine by the Buddhist monks. The Zen monks traditionally drank strong tea in order to stay awake during meditation.

Buddha Statue (2022)Banglanatak

According to popular Buddhist folklore, Bodhidharma, the Buddhist monk, spent nine years facing a cave wall in meditation. Furious with his inability to stay awake, the monk ripped off his eyelids, which upon falling to the ground is believed to have given birth to the first tea plants.     

Tea garden in Assam (2019)Banglanatak

History of industrial tea production in India

Though the extent of the popularity of tea in ancient India is undocumented, in the early 1820s, the British East India Company began large-scale production of tea in Assam, India. How they found this elixir has an interesting history! 

Maniram Dewan and Singpho TeaBanglanatak

Maniram Dewan, a nobleman from Assam had given information about the native tea plants of India to Robert Bruce, who is credited with discovering Indian tea. 

Dewan told Bruce about the Singphos growing tea that was unknown to the rest of the world. 

In 1823, Bruce met with Bessa Gaum, the then Singpho chief who allowed him to take some plants and seeds of tea.

Tea garden of Assam (2019)Banglanatak

Although Bruce died in 1824, some of these tea leaves were sent to the Botanical Gardens in Calcutta by his brother for proper examination where the plant was identified and classified as a variety of tea. This led to the establishment of the first English tea estate in Chabua in Dibrugarh, Assam for commercial cultivation of tea.

Tea manufacturing in Assam (2019)Banglanatak

Contemporary tea economy of India

Today, Assam and West Bengal constitute one of the world's largest tea producing belts, with tea estates covering more than 400,000 hectares of land. There are thousands of big and small tea estates, mostly with industrial production systems, that manufacture tea for both domestic and export markets, and produce more than 50% of tea in India.

A typical Tangsa house (2022)Banglanatak

Taste and know about Tangsa tea

Tangsas are known for their traditional knowledge and sustainable practices which are reflected in their daily lives. In spite of the large scale tea industry,  they continue to make tea in their own traditional ways which is a highly sustainable process.

It gives visitors an opportunity to travel to their village, know about, and taste this age-old smoked bamboo tea! 

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