With over 13,000 tea plantations from 300 feet above sea level to heights of over 7,000 feet above sea level and a harvest which exceeds 800,000 tons per year, India is one of the world’s largest producers. Apart from tourism, tea is the biggest industrial activity, employing over two million people, plus India consumes more tea than any other nation.
The native tea plant in India grows wild in the jungles of north east Assam and was consumed both as a vegetable and as a beverage as early as the late 1500’s. However, it was the British who began developing tea production in late 1800. After the British East India Company lost its monopoly on the trading of tea from China, they began to explore the possibility that India might prove a profitable alternative and established the first nurseries with imported seeds of the Chinese variety of Camellia sinensis in Calcutta. However, other pioneers were clearing land, pruning existing tea trees and experimenting with freshly plucked leaves from the native bushes up in Assam. These indigenous Assam leaf teas were shipped to London, well received and a successful industry was established. Expansion led to cultivation around the town of Darjeeling in the foothills of the Himalayas and by 1857, between 60 and 70 acres were planted with tea. Unlike the condition in Assam, the higher elevations were more suited to the Chinese variety and it grew well. In the southwestern tip of the country, tea was also growing successfully alongside coffee in the Nilgiri Hills or Blue Mountains.
The teas produced in India range from very average to some of the finest teas in the world. There are two main methods of manufacture - one is CTC (crushed-torn-curled) with a more granulated appearance and the other is Orthodox which is blacker and the more traditional whole leaf and most is processed as black tea for the Western palate, however some fine oolong and white teas are produced.
The three most productive regions are Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri. Assam has the largest production with unmatched levels of quality and the teas are bold with a strong malty taste and dark color making them excellent morning teas that are delicious with milk. Darjeeling produces the rarest and most prestigious of black teas as a result of the climate and elevation and have a distinctive taste depending on the harvest season. First flush or springtime teas are light with a delicate aroma and flowery taste - a connoisseur's delight. The highest quality second flush or summer tea is darker, more full-bodied and has a muscatel flavor fetching maximum prices. Autumnal teas still possess a defined, spicy character but are not the highest quality. Nilgiri produces a generally consistent quality of tea with a light, brisk, fresh taste similar to a good Ceylon tea.
TEA TIME TRIVIA
India exports approximately
14% of the world's tea
About 20% of India's plantations
have been converted into "Organic"
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.”