Imperialism and the Creation of Tea Drinkers in British India

A lecture by Erika Rappaport

On November 18, professor of history at UC Santa Barbara Erika Rappaport delivered a talk on the creation of tea drinkers in India.  Through the course of her talk, Rappaport sought to show how tea, so ubiquitous today in South Asian culture, was advertised through an active imperial campaign to produce tea as well as tea-drinkers. This had both economic and cultural advantages for the imperial project– by creating a nation of tea drinkers, not only could this be the source of ‘the material salvation’ of the British industry, it also contributed to the ‘Anglicization’ of the locals.

Rappaport talked about the institutionalized nature of the entire endeavor, focusing on the creation of organizations such as the Indian Tea Association, which was created in 1881. A public sphere for tea consumption was created, and tea was advertised as ‘healthy’ and ‘civilizing,’ in contrast to opium and other popular drugs.

Although the campaign saw great success, it didn’t go unchallenged. The 1930s saw widespread demonstrations against public tea stalls and exhibits. Gandhi wrote an essay on the evils of advertisement and singled out tea in particular. Rappaport went on to say how this experience was one that helped India understand consumerism and capitalism, and taught it to organize resistance against British ideological/cultural/economic regimes. By the late 1930s, however, the Indians no longer rejected tea but had made it their own.

The talk was followed by a Q&A session.