This article rethinks the relationship between the tea plantation economy and its built environment, ecological constraints and nature in fin de siècle Assam in eastern India. It does this by analysing the historical role of tea pests and climate that bedevilled the industry throughout this period. If labour remained the long-term concern for planters (and historians), it argues that these ecological factors induced a critical impact on the working and character of these estates that has largely been overlooked. Alongside labour, nature was an important ally and obstacle that had to be understood, ordered and disciplined. This article thus suggests that managing these estates was as much a biological and ecological challenge as an economic one.