Posted in Kafevend Blog
Following our delve into the history of tea in India, we thought we'd take a look at three of the various regions within the country that grow tea. Nilgiri is one that you may not be aware of, but Assam and Darjeeling are names you are bound to have heard. Perhaps one of them is even your favourite. They have been synonymous with tea since the nineteenth century when Britain's involvement with tea cultivation in India first propelled it to the status of a major export industry.
Darjeeling is the northernmost district of the state of West Bengal, tucked up between Nepal and Bhutan in the foothills of the Himalayas. Most of the tea grown in Darjeeling is descended from Chinese tea plants imported by the British East India Company, as opposed to the native Assam variant. As tea from the region has garnered a good reputation, the Tea Board of India has issued a certification mark to show consumers which teas are actually from Darjeeling, as there are many unscrupulous traders who piggyback on the brand's value. There are many subdivisions of tea produced in Darjeeling: the time it is picked, the part of the plant, the processing method – all have their effect and result in a wide variety of teas for people to choose from.
Tea is grown in the south of India too. The Nilgiri mountain range lies at the southern end of the larger Western Ghat range that runs north to south along the west coast of India. Nilgiri itself is the westernmost district in Tamil Nadu state. The majority of the tea grown in Nilgiri is from parcels of land owned by smallholders. There are several plantations as well, which run their own processing factories on site.The region was popular with British and other European colonials, many of whom built summer homes in the area to benefit from the cooler mountain air. To facilitate their movement, a railway was built, winding its way up past many tea plantations. Though only 29 miles long, it climbs almost 6,000 feet into the mountains!
The Indian state of Assam lies in the extreme north east of the country, squeezed between Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma and China. The region lies along the Brahmaputra river which flows east to west into Bangladesh, as well as the smaller Barak river to the south. Assam is the world's largest tea growing region, producing a little over half of India's total tea, equating to around a sixth of the world's total tea production. The sub tropical environment results in a malty flavour, and while it makes for a refreshing cup of tea at any time of the day, typically finds its way into the variety of breakfast teas that the British public most enjoy. Unfortunately times may be about to change for Assam, as a shift in climate has resulted in a rise in temperature in the region along with a reduction in the amount of rainfall. Attempts are being made to find a tea tree more resistant to the changes, though only time will tell if Assam will continue as a prime location for tea. So next time you sip a cup of Assam tea, savour the taste; we may have some adjusting to do too.