India is well known for producing some of the world’s finest teas; in fact, India exports more than 12% of the global tea supply, and nearly every part of the country boasts its own tea-growing region. More than half a million hectares across thousands of tea estates is used to cultivate this beloved crop.
The climate and growing conditions can vary from region to region, with some plantations nestled high in the hills while others sit at the bottom of mountains. This means that each regional variation of tea has its distinctive flavour and character. Tea pickers generally pick the leaves between the months of March and October.
There are three most significant teas in India: Assam, Darjeeling and Nilgiri. Let’s take a look at each variety in more detail:
Assam originates from the north-eastern state of Assam, a place that holds particular importance as it was home to the first Indian tea estate, established in 1837. Stretching from the Himalayas down to the Bay of Bengal, passing the Brahmaputra valley, Assam is rich in forests and wildlife. This landscape produces gold and brown tea leaves, which turn a shade of orange when dried, and the resulting drink is rich, intense and full-bodied. The second flush of Assam, harvested in June as opposed to March, produces a sweeter, more flavourful tea.
Darjeeling is highly regarded throughout the world and is considered by many to be the best tea available. Harvested at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains, where the climate is cool and wet, Darjeeling leaves are said to be unsurpassable in quality and taste compared with any other tea; unlike some stronger-tasting teas, Darjeeling’s aroma and taste have a subtle quality that many people enjoy, particularly when served as afternoon tea.
The first flush of Darjeeling is picked in April, and is considered to be the finest. The second flush is darker and fruitier in taste, while the third flush – harvested in the autumn – produces the lowest quality batch.
Last but certainly not least: Nilgiri tea. Produced (perhaps unsurprisingly) in the uppermost peaks of the Nigiri Hills, which sits at 2,000 metres above sea level, Nilgiri tea is often blended with other teas to improve its flavour. However, more recently there has been a growing trend for enjoying the tea on its own. Nilgiri is deep amber in colour and its taste is both full-bodied and refreshing, revitalising the mind, body and soul and giving the drinker an energising boost.
In the UK, we certainly know a thing or two about tea and the likes of Assam and Darjeeling are not new to us; but that doesn’t mean we can’t still learn about this complex beverage from the people of India. For an authentic taste of Indian tea, as well as other beverages such as homemade lassis, head down to one of London’s top fine-dining Indian restaurants. After enjoying a mouth-watering variety of quality Indian dishes, you can finish the meal off with a refreshing cup of Indian chai.