Friday, 13 August 2010

the Indian Princess Camellia

There are two places that the Camellia sinensis plant occurred in the wild: China and India (Darjeeling is an entirely different strain, and I don't know where it came from). Just read a few pages from Pratt's Tea Lover's Treasury, and he talks at length about the trials and tribulations of developing the Assam strain of tea until it was viable. One of the things they did was to try to make a hybrid of the two strains, but with horrible results. On page 89, he includes a passage from the 'fanciful' J. M. Scott which describes this unfortunate chapter in the history of tea:

You have read the romantic story of how the Indian Princess Camellia (her other name as yet unknown) was found blushing, unscientifically recognized, in the wild jungles of Assam, of how emissaries went forth and searched through China for a prince of the highest lineage who would share her modest realm and thus raise her in the eyes of the world. Prince after prince languished after leaving China, died and had to be replaced. But the ultimate survivors perked up most surprisingly and impregnated all the native plants within reach. There is no cure for hybridization except extermination. And the experts are now convinced that the simple Indian plant was of much the better class. The Chinese princeling, no good away from home, weakened her pure, strong blood. She could travel, but not he. The couple will certainly live happily ever after in their vegetable way. No one can stop them. But those financially interested continue even now to describe this marriage arranged with such difficulty and final triumph as the curse of the Tea Industry.

Now this is something I'd never heard of. This attempt to make a hybrid of the two strains of tea. And is it true that Chinese tea strains don't travel well? I find that hard to believe. Of the up and coming tea plantations in the New World, haven't any successfully grown strains of Chinese/Japanese green teas?

But I do like the idea of telling the story as if the strains of tea were different royal families. Very nice.

I've said it before that it seems like most tea fanatics are more obsessed with Chinese/Japanese teas. Sometimes I think that's for sometime in my future. I drink a lot of green teas, but something still intrigues me about Indian black teas. At some point I might graduate from this obsession, but I hope it doesn't happen anytime soon.


  1. "And is it true that Chinese tea strains don't travel well?"
    Strange as I read that most (if not all) tea plants come from an area near or in China (the location changes according to the writer).

  2. I recall reading that the strain of tea used in Darjeeling actually originated in China, whereas the one used in Assam and other low-lying areas (it is often grown it Thailand as well) was developed in that area. But I can't find a source at this moment!

    I find the teas from the Darjeeling, Assam, and surrounding regions (including into Nepal, Sikkim, Bangladesh) fascinating though. And I also find the question of cultivars, where plants are native to, where they were developed, and all that, to be fascinating too.