Indian Tea

The tea cultivation in India is relatively recent – it started in the second half of the 19th century. However, the tea plants grew in the foothills of the Himalayas in the north and northeast of the country long before the arrival of the British. For many centuries, tea has not been cultivated there, just plucked from the wild trees.

There is a legend that some English traders brought a few tea plants from China, where they have been considered as the property of the Chinese empire, and planted them in the flatlands of India, at that time captured and colonized by England. Those few bushes marked the beginning of tea cultivation in India. It all happened in the ‘30s of the 19th century. After the first successful experience in 1863, the East Indian company brought a large batch of young tea plants to India, and after 10 years of hard work, tea plantations produced the first harvest. This success led to the creation of several companies and many of them sell tea in our days and are known worldwide.

Today, India is the world’s second-largest producer of high-quality black tea and the major manufacturer of medium and low-grade CTC teas produced for mass consumption. CTC type of manufacturing stands for Curling, Tearing & Crushing. Quite a large part of this “mass-produced tea” remains in the country because the Indians love to make a drink called “masala”. Masala tea, what literary means tea with spices, is a drink originally from the Indian subcontinent, prepared by brewing CTC tea and mixing it with Indian spices and herbs.

 

The main tea growing regions of India

Indian tea of the highest grades grows on the slopes of the steep mountains, sometimes they incline to 70 degrees. Plantations, located on the terraces, form bands around the slopes of the mountains. Tea must be picked solely by women and only by hand and, as a rule, at dawn.

In India, there are three main regions where they grow the finest teas: Nilgiri, Assam, and Darjeeling.

Nilgiri - is one of the largest tea regions of India, located in the south of the country at the foot of the Blue Mountains. The tea plantations can be found really high at the elevations ranging from 1500 to 1800 meters. They are surrounded by snow-capped mountains and dense jungle. Back in 1840, the first tea plants were planted here, and thanks to benevolent climatic conditions, they felt very comfortable in this area and started to grow, marking the beginning of the future tea gardens.

Nilgiri is the second-largest producer of black tea in India among other states. This yielding capacity is related to the climate - frequent monsoon rains, high average annual temperature allows the tea plants to grow throughout the year. Tea in Nilgiri is plucked twice: in spring (April-May) and in autumn (September-December). The spring crops are considered the best. Nilgiri tea gives an exquisitely bright infusion, delicate taste, and fresh citrus aroma. It is better to drink it fresh, as it loses its properties during long storage.

Assam is the main tea-growing region of India, which produces more than half of all Indian tea. There are highland gardens that produce the finest, “pure” tea, there are also lowlands gardens with more simple teas which are often included in various mixes or blends. The state of Assam is bordered by China, Bhutan, Burma, and Bangladesh. It is located in one of the most beautiful locations in the world and for various reasons, it is one of the perfect places for cultivating black tea. Conventionally the state of Assam is divided into Upper (Northern) and Lower areas. The main high-quality “pure” teas are produced in the Upper Assam. Local climatic conditions and, what is more important, generous rainfalls create a greenhouse effect, which influences beneficially upon the quality of the tea plants. The first flush is of the average quality and is usually picked in spring; the most precious are later flushes harvested in August or September. Tea from Assam is pretty strong, with dark infusion, full-bodied and a little astringent.

To the west of the Assam lies the Darjeeling - the region of India famous for producing world-renowned Darjeeling tea.

History of this tea dates back to the first half of the 19th century when Dr. A. Campbell, a British Governor-General, insisted on planting some tea seeds near his residence in Darjeeling. After the success of his experiment in the year 1847, this region was chosen by the British Government to put out tea gardens.

The Darjeeling District is located in the foothills of the Himalayan range and it borders Nepal and Bhutan. The tea is cultivated at high altitudes of 750-2000 meters above sea level, and the tea gardens cover the area of 20 000 hectares. The particular microclimate of the place is perfect for growing tea.

Darjeeling is considered one of the most delicate and fragrant teas in the world, so it can even compete with the best Chinese teas. The taste of Darjeeling tea is as unique as a human personality, and cannot be reproduced in any other tea plantation in the world, which is why its taste profile is highly appreciated by tea connoisseurs. The greatest tea grows in the coldest area of the region at an altitude of 2600 meters. These tea plants are the authentic Chinese varieties of Camellia sinensis var. Sinensis. At present, there are 144 tea gardens in Darjeeling, but only 87 of them have the official certification from the Tea Board of India. Only certified tea estates have the right to sell their products under the “Darjeeling” brand. Every tea is named after the garden it was produced by.

Known as the champagne of teas Darjeeling is considered most prestigious among other black teas in the UK and in other parts of the world.

With properly brewed, Darjeeling tea gives a light-colored infusion with subtle muscatel tones, a hint of astringency and floral aroma.

 

Darjeeling harvest seasons

First Flush, March-April

Tea plucked during this period yields a light translucent infusion with the freshest and fragrant aromas, which makes it so appreciated by many amateurs and experts. It has an amazing combination of delicate honey flavor with the scent of flowers.

This tea is often sold at auction, and the price for Darjeeling First Flush Tea is several times higher than the prices for the subsequent harvests from the same plantation.

 

Second Flush, May - June

Tea collected during this period is more full-bodied, the combination of aroma and color gets brighter and more intense, along with the fruity taste of the infusion. This high-quality tea also takes a special place in the hearts of the true tea lovers, as it’s during that period the renowned muscatel flavor becomes very pronounced.

 

Summer Flush, July-September

The third flush collected from July through September is the summer or “monsoon” flushes.

The tea leaves of this flush brew into a stronger color and bolder flavor.

 

Autumn Flush, October- November

The fourth “autumn flush” happens in October and November. The tea leaves are larger and yield rich copper-colored liquor with well-balanced taste and flavor.

 

Blends and Pure Teas

The major part of Indian teas is mixed in blends. Different manufacturers create a blend for one large batch of tea, which is then packed and sent to consumers. Naturally, the composition of the blends varies now and then, so there is a special practice called tea tasting. Similar to the wine selection process, tea tasting is very important, because it will help you to choose and buy the required quantity of tea from the batch that you liked the most. There are companies (mainly English) which have their own tea tasters at tea factories in India, whose task is to monitor the quality and maintain the consistent taste of tea regardless of the harvest. To provide the latter condition, they select tea from several plantations and try to create experimental blends, the best of them becomes the main sample for the batch.

 

There only four varieties of Indian tea sold “pure”, without being mixed with the other teas.

Darjeeling Tea – that is among the most expensive teas in the world due to the unique qualities of its first flush. As it is produced in limited quantities, it is very difficult to find this tea at the market, as it’s mostly sold through auctions.

Assam Tea –full-bodied, rich-flavored, with a darker infusion and some “malty” notes in its taste. Assam teas yield a bright infusion of the orange and reddish colors.

Although Nilgiri Tea comes from South India, it is more similar to a high-quality Ceylon tea, rather than to a North Indian tea. You can find it sold as “pure unblended Nilgiri”, but it mainly finds its way into blends or as the basis for the fine mixed teas.

Sikkim Tea is a new variety that appeared in the late 1980s but already gained popularity at the tea market. This delicious and delicate tea reminds Darjeeling in taste and Assam in flavor.

 

In our opinion, the Chinese method of brewing (The Gong Fu Tea Ceremony) works perfectly well for the pure Indian teas of the highest quality. This way of brewing helps best to reveal all the flavors and tastes of tender high-mountain leafy varieties, including, the prominent Darjeeling tea.

 

Indian Tea Classification

Indian tea types are classified in different ways.

Based on the tea leaf type it falls into the following categories:

  • Whole Leaf
  • Broken Leaf
  • Fannings
  • Dust

Inside each category, there are subcategories, based on the quality of a tea leaf.

Whole Leaf

FP - Flowery Pekoe

FTGFOP - Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

TGFOP - Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

TGFOP - Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe One

GFOP - Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe

FOP - Flowery Orange Pekoe

OP - Orange Pekoe

Broken Leaf

BOP 1 - Broken Orange Pekoe One

GF BOP - Golden Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe

BPS - Broken Pekoe Soucheng

GBOP - Golden Broken Orange Pekoe

FBOP - Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe

BOP - Broken Orange Pekoe

Fannings

GOF - Golden Orange Fannings

FOF - Flowery Orange Fannings

BOPF - Broken Orange Pekoe Fannings

Dust

OPD - Orthodox Pekoe Dust

OCD - Orthodox Churamani Dust

BOPD - Broken Orange Pekoe Dust

BOPFD - Broken Orange Pekoe Fine Dust

FD - Fine Dust

D-A - Dust A

Spl. Dust - Special Dust

G. Dust - Golden Dust

OD - Orthodox Dust

The tea classification is based on the official information provided by the Indian Tea Association (https://www.indiatea.org/orthodox)



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