What is even worst is knowing that in 2009, with a mere 0,21 kg per year and per capita, France ranked 88 in terms of tea consumption per capita and per year (along really known tea drinkers countries like Azerbaijan, Belize and Moldiva) (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_tea_consumption_per_capita and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations).
But we are talking about the country of Theodor, Palais des Thés, Mariage Frères, Kusmi Tea, Dammann Frères and so many others I forgot to name (and no this is not a ranking), so there must be something to it.
I did some research and found online a book published in 1912, L’agriculture pratique des pays chauds, a compilation of newspapers from the Bulletin du Jardin Colonial et des jardins d’essai des colonies françaises (Bulletin from the Colonial Garden and the French Tropical Botanical Gardens).
I think the best way to sum up this article is to say that some of the French colonies had potential but lacked both the cheap labour needed to harvest tea and the skilled one needed to prepare it.
The main producing area was Indochina but I will come back to it later.
In Senegal, there was no tea but a kind of ersatz, the Lippia adoensis, but the production was rather low.
Mayotte and Madagascar produced some tea (not much) but mostly in private gardens or through experiments with plants comings from Java or Ceylon.
The production in the second of these islands is said to have been of excellent quality but I don’t know how they judged it.
La Réunion must have shown great promises since tea production was introduced at least 4 times (1816, 1841, 1858 and 1894) from Java or Ceylon, mostly because the interest seems to have vanished because of the same reasons that seem to have plagued the French tea industry.
However, the quality was there since in 1867, tea from La Réunion earned the gold medal at the Paris Universal Exposition (the writer wrote the London one but it must be a mistake).
Now we are getting to Indochina, the tea jewel of the French Empire.
The local people produced a tea but it was badly prepared (at least for the European standards) and as such was not really interesting for the colonial power or the rich local people (who drank Chinese tea)
It seems that the missionaries were among the first to introduce tea production (mostly because no one ever thought of competing against the Chinese teas) in Assam from where it went in the whole country.
The different plantations belonged to French owners and the production was directly sold through them.
But all this for what?
Here is the tea consumption in France during these years.
As you will see it is not really that bright with a really low consumption per inhabitant and a stable price (rather typical of the period).
I would have liked to publish here some of the pictures that first inspired me but I asked for the authorization and didn’t receive it.
So I can only put the link here and hope you will click on it.
After clicking on it, just write “thé” in the “Plein texte” box and then hit enter.