|The Teas of India
Diverse Teas From a Diverse Country
|When you think of India, exotic images come to mind, from wildlife to terrain, to
its colorful people. From jungles to mountains and deserts, to crowded, bustling
cities, India is a place of diversity and extremes.
|India is the world's largest tea
producer, famous for its Assam,
Nilgiri, and Darjeeling black teas.
India's tea is produced by millions of tea workers
on over 110,000 tea estates, and much of what it
produces is consumed by its own people, putting it
at number four in world exports in 2005, behind
China, Kenya, and Sri Lanka.
Surrounded by water on three sides; the Bay of
Bengal to the east, the Arabian Sea to the west,
and the Indian Ocean on the south, India's
northern border is defined by the magnificent
Each of India's tea
growing regions fea-
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|tures considerably different terrain, geography, and climate, with
northeastern India divided by the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys
where Assam tea is made. The northern Bengal plains of Dooars
and Terai, along with the Darjeeling Hills are home to Darjeeling
teas, and the Nilgiri Mountains (Blue Hills) in the states of Kerala
and Tamil Nadu provide the only tea-producing area in southern
India, home to Nilgiri teas.
The Brahmaputra River, one of the longest rivers in the world,
runs through the middle of the region of Assam, which is for the
most part a large tropical river valley, with a few areas of higher
The rich, fertile plains that feed Assam's
many tea gardens are provided by the
Brahmaputra river watershed. The south-
ern region of Assam is fed by the Barak
River, which forms the Surma Valley, where
the smaller Cachar tea district is located
The Assam region produces the largest
quantity of India's tea with both mass-mar-
ket CTC (cut-tear-curl) and premium teas
produced there. Unfortunately the price for
mass-market tea has plummeted, and be-
tween 2003 and 2005 over 150 Assam tea
growers closed their gardens, no longer
able to compete in the market.
Luckily, many others
decided to upgrade
the quality of their leaf,
moving into the specialty tea market as demand for low-grade
tea fell, and worldwide demand for quality teas has steadily in-
creased, with no apparent end in sight.
Assam orthodox teas have two distinct flavor profiles; mature,
tippy leaves with a creamy, full-bodied flavor, and the second, a
more crisp, briskly defined flavor with highly nuanced aromas,
both with a dark, red-brown liquor.
The Darjeeling tea region wends its way up from the foothills of the
Himalaya's past the town of Darjeeling, located at 7,100 feet, winding
its way through valleys and small tea towns along the way.
Because of the many deep valleys, high ridges, and changes in eleva-
tion, the Darjeeling tea growing region has a varied climate. Long, cold
winters give way to sunshine and cool breezes from April through June,
turning to heavy monsoon rains in late summer.
Like China's Wuyi Shan rock and cliff oolongs, India's Darjeeling black teas are totally unique, as
no where else on earth can the exact same terroir, the combination of climate and terrain be
found. Darjeeling teas grow in thin, rocky, well drained and slightly acidic soil, on steep valley
slopes, in gardens that range in elevation from 1,800 to 6,300 feet.
Where once over 200 Darjeeling tea gardens were in operation,
today there are barely over 70 distinct gardens remaining, many
having been combined with others or consolidated under new
Darjeeling teas are a soft golden amber when brewed, with a
delicate, soft flowery flavor likened to the sweetness of peaches
and apricots, and sometimes described as "muskatel."
Last comes India's Nilgiri teas, grown high in the Nilgiri Mountains
(or Blue Hills) in the state of Tamil Nadu. Lush forests and jungles
provide the perfect climate and geography for growing Nilgiri black
From soft undulating foothills, to the highest peaks of 8,000 feet or
more, the tea bushes thrive in the varied micro-climate of lush for-
ests, tropical jungles, mist covered valleys, grasslands, high, sunny plateaus, and a multitude of
rivers and streams.
Most Nilgiri tea is CTC (cut-tea-curl) used to fill tea bags, even though many good or even
exceptional orthodox teas are made in the Nilgiri region.
| Nilgriri teas are known as "the fragrant ones," with bright, distinctive flavors that do
not cloud when making iced tea, but retain a clear and vivid color.
Facing a glut of CTC teas in the market, forcing prices down, many Nilgiri tea growers
like their Assam cousins are turning to specialty and organic tea production to stand
out in the West's marketplace, where there is always room for more quality orthodox
Also, like their Darjeeling cousins, many fine orthodox Nilgiri teas have delicate fruity flavors and soft flowery aromas,
while others can be a bit more assertive. Nilgiri's winter plucked teas, called "frost teas" are also unique and
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