The Assam region sits in the so-called “tea belt” where tea has grown wild for centuries, stretching from Assam in the west to Yunnan in the east. It was the camellia sinensis assamica, the broad leaved variety of the tea plant, found in the jungles of Assam that so confused western botanists in the 19th century when they first came across it.
It took decades before the assamica variety was recognised as a tea plant, despite being grown and used medicinally by native tribes for generations. However, once acknowledged as the tea plant, the British were quick to clear and dedicate vast tracts of Assam to tea growing. Today Assam is one of the largest tea growing regions in the world.
Mass production of predominantly CTC (cut, tear, curl) tea for the teabag market over the last 50-60 years has led to a reliance on agro-chemicals and historically low wages across the region. This has at times led to unrest, and in the early 1990s led to insurgency. Even amongst self-employed small tea growers, there has been a constant struggle as they are paid low value for their picked leaf by bought leaf factories owned and operated by big commercial companies.