In 1840, a tea garden was first established in the port city of Chittagong, known as Kunder's Garden. This garden became extinct soon after its establishment and in 1854, a tea garden was established at Malnichhara in Sylhet which started commercial production of Tea in 1857. Malnichhara is therefore regarded as the first commercial tea garden in Bangladesh.
Until the independence of the country 1971, tea was cultivated in only two districts in Bangladesh, one in Sylhet district which was known as 'Surma Valley' and the other in Chittagong district which was known as 'Halda Valley'. At present the ‘Surma Valley’ of Greater Sylhet is divided into six valleys namely: Laskarpur Valley, Balisera Valley, Manu-Dalai Valley, Longla Valley and North Sylhet Valley. ‘Halda Valley’ has been made into ‘Chittagong Valley’. Since 2002, the Tea cultivation was also introduced in other parts of Bangladesh namely Panchagarh, Lalmonirhat, Thakurgaon, Nilphamari, Dinajpur and Bandarban in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The Bangladesh Tea industry has seen continuous growth in production since the country’s independence in 1971. Tea production in 1980 stood at 31.37 million kg which rose to 97.08 million kgs in 2019, which is a threefold increase in just four decades. The 166 tea estates in the country cover almost 280,000 acres of land and is listed as the 9th largest Tea producer, producing around 2% of the world’s Tea production. Tea sales in Bangladesh are generated through Auction which are held weekly at Chittagong and now also in Sreemongol. The Tea Auction was established back in 1949 by British and Australian traders and the tradition is continued till this day.
The Bangladesh Tea Industry provides direct employment to over 100,000 people in 166 tea estates. The tea industry provides livelihood to 5 lakh people directly and another 5 lakh people indirectly who depend on the tea industry through tea trading, tea brokerage, tea warehousing and other ancillary service industries.
The industry plays a significant role in the national economy through employment generation, import substitution as well as export earnings and poverty reduction in rural areas. Although Bangladesh has had a long history of producing CTC black tea, in recent years the industry has started producing green and oolong tea as well as organic tea which are opening up windows of opportunity for Bangladesh to export to countries such as the European Union, USA, Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan and even to China which is considered as the birthplace of Tea.