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Bengalis and tea: a long love affair

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Tea is one of the things that has been inseparable from the Bengali cultural landscape. Even in the scorching summer heat, Bengalis drinking tea from the tongs of the footpath is one of the most common sights in Bangladesh. 

Tea goes extremely well with 'adda', another definitive feature of the Bengalis. However, tea was not always a part of our culture, and its transition into being something unique in our cultural consciousness has been a steady phenomenon.

The first known documentation of tea is found in China around 200 B.C., as something used in funeral cakes rather than a drink. 

However, the use of tea as a drink in China was discovered much later, during the 16th century. Tea leaves being boiled and then the liquid being used as a refreshing drink started from that time on.

Dutch traders, during that time, began importing tea en masse from China to Europe, with the tea making its way into the British Royal family later on. Tea eventually became a favourite drink for ordinary Brits, and it has remained something that continues to this day when one cannot think of British culture separately without thinking about tea.

The Brits later proliferated the cultivation and trading of tea in their colonies. They used to import tea from China and sell opium to them in return, which later became the basis of the Opium War. 

The first known cultivation of tea in the present-day territory of Bangladesh was started in 1843 in Chittagong, beside the banks of the Karnaphuli River. Commercially, starting in 1857, tea was cultivated in the Sylhet region and later spread to the present-day Cumilla and Panchagarh districts.

From the 19th Century on, tea entered ordinary Bengalis' kitchens. Although it first started with the elites of Kolkata, it didn't take much time for tea to become a popular drink among people from all walks of life. 

Nowadays, tea is not only a refreshing drink for the Bengalis but also something that Bangladesh exports to earn a lot of foreign currency.

Every year, about nine crore kilos of tea are produced in Bangladesh, most of which are sold in the domestic market. However, in 2020, Bangladesh will have exported tea to 19 countries and earned about 35 crore taka. 

Although starting as a foreign crop at first, tea has become as Bengali as rice and fish, and the love affair of Bengalis regarding tea is likely to continue in the days to come.

kabirrassiqaziz@gmail .com

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