Tea consumption in India has a long history, South Asians viewed tea as an herbal medicine rather than as a recreational beverage. Although commercially, tea is being cultivated in India is relatively recently - within the second half of the 19th century. However, in the foothills of the Himalayas in the north and north-eastern regions of country, tea trees grew before the arrival of the British. For centuries, tea has not been cultivated but only gathered from wild trees. There is a legend that British merchants transported a few tea bushes from China and planted them in the plains of India, by the time they occupied and colonized by Britain. From those few bushes, started a global cultivation of tea in India and Ceylon. It happened in the thirties of the 19th century when the British East India Company became concerned about the Chinese monopoly on tea that constituted most of its trade and supported the enormous consumption of tea in Great Britain. After the first successful experience in 1863, the British East India Company brought to India a large batch of germs and after 10 years of hard work, the tea plantations give the first crop. In 1870, over 90% of the tea consumed in Great Britain was still of Chinese origin but by 1900, this had dropped to 10%, largely replaced by tea grown in India and Ceylon. Success has created several companies, many of which still sell tea and are known throughout the world. India's success on the international market is mainly due to accommodating the special English taste for strong tea, adequate for chalky water.
High quality tea in India is growing on mountain slopes which are very steep (up to 70 degrees). Plantations are located on terraces which rings encircle the mountain slopes. These high quality grades of tea gather exclusively by women and only manually. The tea plucking process takes place usually at the break of dawn. Manufacturers are trying to make tea of the highest class, twisted leaf tea and no broken leaves.
There are two main areas of growth of Indian tea: Darjeeling and Assam. Important cultivation areas are, apart from Darjeeling and Assam:
Dooars - west of Assam, mainly production of CTC teas.
Nilgiri - South Indian tea district, fresh teas, similar to those of Sri Lanka
Sikkim - north east of Darjeeling, high-quality teas
Terrai - south of Darjeeling, similar to Darjeeling, somewhat more herb in taste.
Today India is the second largest producer of quality black tea and the first one of the middle and low-grade "bulk" teas, CTC. A large portion of this "simple" tea stays in the country; locals are very fond of drinking tea (a modest 750 grams per person a year), it is quite different in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Although these countries are close neighbors, the locals hardly drink tea, and the entire Ceylon crop is exported. A small proportion of green teas are produced in India as well and mainly for Japan that buys simpler varieties to add them to their own production.
Assam is a tea district in Northern India across the Brahmaputra. It is the largest connected tea growing region in the world. The plateau with highly arable rainforest soil contains a lot of humidity due to the prevailing monsoon winds. The local climatic conditions, especially rainfall, create a greenhouse effect which positively affects the quality of tea leaf. Tea plants are cultivated in tea gardens on large cultivatable land of up to 1,000 hectares. There are about 2,000 plantations in Assam. Assam tea is generally heavy and spicy, dark in the cup. It is the main component of the classical English and East Frisian blends which are prepared for water with high chalk contents and are usually drunk with milk and sugar. Since the appearance of the young tea traders on the international market, especially from Africa, Assam was largely driven out of this market by the cheaper tea varieties.
Mid April to Late May: First Flush. These qualities are of rather little economic significance for the European or US market. These teas are mostly aromatically fresh, light and of rather tart character. For this reason they do not meet the traditional Assam features.
Early June/Mid August: Second Flush. The second flush, harvested in June/August, before the large monsoon rain starts, is highly demanded. Assam teas from the second plucking period are of greater relevance in terms of quality and the export business. These qualities are often very “colored” in tips, with a pouring that is mostly very dark and has a typical strong, full-spicy and malty character.
The oldest tea gardens in Assam were founded in 1832-33 by English trade agencies. In 1839, the first Assam tea appeared in a London action. The Assam region is bordered by China, Bhutan, Burma and Bangladesh. Assam is one of the most beautiful places in the world and in all respects, is one of the best places for the cultivation of black tea.
Darjeeling is a region in the North-Eastern India, located at the southern slopes of the Himalaya Mountains. Darjeeling is the most famous tea region of India. Tea gardens are located at altitudes of up to 2,600 meters above sea level on an area of 20 thousand hectares and produce the most exquisite types in the world. Darjeeling borders with China and Bhutan. The special microclimate of the region is ideal for growing elite types of tea also called “champagne of tea”. Black Orthodox tea from Darjeeling (Indians pronounce the name with the accent on the second syllable) are considered one of the most delicate and fragrant teas in the world, competing with the best Chinese varieties and very often surpassing them. The unique taste of tea from Darjeeling is highly valued by tea lovers and experienced connoisseurs. The best tea grows in the coldest part of the terrain, at an altitude of 2,600 meters. The color of the infusion is deep burgundy with a green tint.
March-May: First Flush is in March, as soon as the weather is good after the end of the vegetation break, the first soft leaves and buds of the first period are plucked. The characteristics of a good F.F. Darjeeling are a lively fresh, delightful flowery aroma and a honey color of the infusion. This tea is sold at auctions, and prices are several times higher than the subsequent charges from the same plantation.
May-June: In between crop – the qualified “trailer” of the first flush season does have a particular connection with the first touches of the second flush period. The leaves and the infusion are already turning darker and the diversity of the flavors varies from full-bodied to slightly aromatic. The In-between is often used as a profitable blend-quality. Due to the high demand, the prices are not as cheap.
June-July: Second Flush. The summer crop is the summit in a crop year. The tea leaves develop more aroma by the longer exposure to sun. The most important quality features of a classical S.F. tea are dark brown leafs with golden tips and the color of infusion is soft amber. Taste is full-bodied with a distinctive nutmeg note. The second collection is no less interesting and appreciated by connoisseurs, sometimes higher than the first crop.
October-November: Autumnal crop. After another period of rain in late summer and until the vegetation lull in November, fully aromatic but somewhat mild teas are plucked.
Nilgiri is one of the major tea regions of India, located in the south of the country, at the foot of the Blue Mountains. The tea gardens in Nilgiri are small compared to plantations in Assam. Tea in Nilgiri is cultivated on altitudes between 800-2,000 meters above the sea level. Tea plantations are surrounded by snow-covered mountains and luxuriant growing jungle. In 1840, the first tea seedlings had been planted, thanks to good climatic conditions, the seedlings became well acclimated and the basis for future plantations.
Nilgiri takes second place in India in volume of black tea production. Frequent monsoon rains, high average annual temperatures, allow the great cultivation of tea all year. Tea gathers unite in Nilgiri twice a year: in spring (April-May) and second flush in autumn (September-December), the best being the spring collection. The Nilgiri tea is a main component of so-called English blend. The tea of these regions is full-bodied, with a bright infusion, mild taste and can be distinguished by a fresh citrus scent which is reminiscent of the Ceylon high-growns.
Most of the Indian tea is used for mixtures or blends. Different companies make a blend for a large consignment of tea, which is then packaged and sent to consumers. Naturally, the composition of blends from time to time changes, so there is a practice such as a sampling of tea. Similar to the in the selection of wine, tasting is needed prior to purchase of product in order to understand which tea is the best. There are companies (mostly British) that have their own tea testers in the tea factories located in India, whose main task is to monitor the quality and stability of tea taste, regardless of the crop. To do such, they select from several tea plantations and make trial blends, the best of them becomes a model for the party. There are four varieties of Indian tea that is sold unblended: Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiri (also used in blends) and Sikkim. Sikkim Tea is a new variety introduced in late 1980, but has already won the position on the market of tea. This delicious and sweet tea is reminiscent to the taste of Darjeeling tea and Assamese tea aroma. One can say that it occupies an intermediate position between these two titans.
Black tea from India can be brewed in several ways. Brewing methods of tea depends on its type and grade. Chinese method: more loose leaf tea leaves and less time of brewing, English method: 1 tsp of tea leaves per 6oz cup and a long (3-5 minutes) brewing process, or Indian method: very strong tea infusion, hot milk and a lot of sugar. All three methods have their unique characteristics, and each way is good for its type of tea. The Chinese way is suitable for any Indian tea, but best of all, it reveals aromas of delicate high grade tea varieties such as teas Darjeeling. The English method does not allow steeping the tea more than twice. If you prefer to drink tea, as it is loved in England, with milk or cream, then pour the cream into a cup prior to the tea slightly heated. Fine broken leaf grades are very popular in India, where English tradition of drinking tea with milk has spread in a transformed way. Brewing using the Indian style is a very intense brewing method. Tea leaves are steeped with hot milk, water and a lot of sugar. Then the infusion is poured from one tall glass into another to create the appearance of abundant foam. This very thick drink, with a nice color, can hardly be called tea; however, the Indians are very fond of it and consumed in large quantities. This method is also used to prepare a strong tea with milk and spices called Masala Chai. Some of the chai masala spice mixtures are still in current use are derived from Ayurvedic medical texts.
ESP Emporium offers an amazing selection of black tea – the most popular drink in the world. Vast selection of high quality tea from India presents all the most magnificent types from Darjeeling and Assam, First and Second Flush, pure and blended. Worth to give it a try!