May 21 – International Tea Day : Jimli

S Balakrishnan
“What has “Jimli” got to do with International Tea Day? Well, I was told in Assam that Jimli means the tender leaf shoot of tea plant.  While we were staying in a resort near Kaziranga National Park we decided to explore the surrounding area and taste the local food.  Frankly, food is cheaper and could be tastier outside than in big hotels, right ? The tik-tok sound of handloom weaving made us peep over the fence of a house.   It was there that we saw a cute baby named Jimli. We quizzically looked at the lady holding her. She explained that ‘Jimli’ in Assamese language means tea plant’s tender shoot. No doubt Assam has a strong connection with tea because it is believed that tea originated in North-East India, north Myanmar and southwest China. But where tea grew first is not known exactly.
It is said that 5,000 years ago itself tea was consumed in China. Naturally, China leads in tea production with 3090 million kg. (year 2022), followed by India with almost half its production, ie, 1365 Kenya, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Indonesia follow. With the produce of various other countries put together as 606.83 m. kg., the total world tea production in 2022 was 6422.66 m. kg. Though China produces almost half the world’s tea, it exports only 375.23 m. kg., perhaps barely meeting its own vast local demand. It is probably the same situation with India also because it exports only 226.98 m. kg., thus ranking fourth world-wise. Kenya tops in tea export (456 m. kg.). Sri Lanka precedes India (247.15 m. kg). The worldwide total tea export is a meager 1830.97 (2022), clearly indicating that most of the tea produced is locally consumed. This only confirms the statistics that tea is the world’s most consumed drink, second only to water!
‘Camellia sinesis’ is the botanical name for tea plant. In India, tea growing areas is grouped as North India and South India. Under North India group falls 1. Assam (Assam Valley & Cachar), 2. West Bengal (Darjeeling, Dooars & Terai), and 3. Others. Under South India falls Tamil Nadu, Kerala & Karnataka.  The estimated total tea production by both the big & small growers of these two major groups in March 2023 was 63.38 m. kg. & 13.75 m. kg., respectively. Of the total 77.13 million kg., CTC tea topped with 68.10, followed by Orthodox (8.30 and Green Tea (0.73 As I write this I learn that CTC tea means Crush, Tear & Curl. Indian tea varieties are – Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiris, Kangra, Dooars-Terai, Masala Tea, Sikkim Tea, and Tripura. The Tea Board of India was constituted on 1st April 1954 with headquarters in Calcutta.
For me green tea is ‘Yuk!’ So don’t even think of offering it to me. Black tea is ‘kattan chai’ in Kerala and is very popular there. I love orthodox (leaf) tea; the aroma is enchanting, though it lacks colour. My first taste of the aromatic leaf tea was in 1983 in Sikkim with its own Temi Tea. Started in 1969, now its produce is certified as Organic; tea here is harvested four times a year.  I had a chance to visit the Temi-Tarku tea gardens only in 2014, during my revisit to Sikkim. It was drizzling but the women labourers continued plucking the tea shoots.  The showroom there had a mindboggling variety of tea that we fought among ourselves and ended up buying nothing! We carried our fight to Darjeeling, only to return empty handed from there also. But I did buy a packet of Darjeeling leaf tea when I went there in 1984. The unique Darjeeling Tea has obtained GI (Geographical Indication) mark.
While the Japan tea ceremony is a unique experience by itself, I had two such unforgettable tea experiences; during the first one I got to fulfill my dream of drinking Tibetan-style salted & yak buttered tea that was offered by an elderly Lamini at Geyzing, West Sikkim; the second was in Bakthapur, Nepal, where I enjoyed sipping a full kettle of aromatic tea at Nyatapola Café, a temple-turned-café, for Nepali Rupee 2.50. But that was in 1986!
As we talk about tea, how can we miss a mention of the Boston Tea Party that was an important part of American fight against the British colonial rule ? On the night of December 16, 1773, about 100 revolutionaries dumped 90,000 lbs. (45 tons) of tea into the sea, protesting against tea taxation.
The UN General Assembly decided to designate 21 May as International Tea Day to promote and foster collective actions for sustainable production and consumption of tea and raise awareness of its importance in fighting hunger and poverty. Tea consumption can bring health benefits and wellness due to the beverage’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and weight loss effects. It also has cultural significance in many societies. Besides, tea production and processing constitutes a main source of livelihood for millions of families in developing countries. The tea industry is a main source of income and export revenues for some of the poorest countries and, as a labour-intensive sector, provides jobs, especially in remote and economically disadvantaged areas. Tea can play a significant role in rural development, poverty reduction and food security in developing countries, being one of the most important cash crops.
Let us raise our TEA glass and say ‘Cheers!’
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