16th
May
2016

Posted in Kafevend Blog

Nilgiri tea


If you've had the opportunity to read through our latest series of Indian tea blogs, then today's should hopefully add a little more to your store of knowledge about teas from this part of the world. India is the world's second largest producer of tea after China. Its famed Darjeeling tea makes up only around 2% of its total output, and Assam doesn't account for the remainder all on its own. Today then we are taking a look at the other great tea producing region of the Indian subcontinent- Nilgiri.

High altitude tea


While Assam and Darjeeling teas come from the north east corner of India, Nilgiri tea comes from the south of the country, specifically the Nilgiri (Blue Hill) Mountains in the state of Tamil Nadu. Like Darjeeling, Nilgiri tea is grown at altitude. The tea bushes are the same camellia sinensis sinensis originating from China that are used for Darjeeling. That's where the similarity ends though; Nilgiri's less extreme geography, coupled with its tropical climate- the area has a more even year round temperature and two monsoon seasons- means that tea can be harvested there all year long. In fact, it has more in common with Ceylon tea from Sri Lanka.

So when did the Nilgiri tea business get going? The climate up in the Nilgiri Mountains is much more pleasant in the summer than down on the plains; daytime temperatures peak at around 23°C, as opposed to an average of 38°C on the plains, a fact that led British colonists of the early 1800s to build summer homes there. Then, in the 1830s, when the British East India Company was setting up tea gardens in Assam, it also experimented further south too. Nilgiri has had a flourishing tea trade ever since.

Fragrant teas


Nilgiri teas are also known as 'the fragrant ones'; the tea bushes grow in amongst a variety of spices and also other trees such as eucalyptus and cypress which lend them their fragrance and fruitiness. The teas can be brewed for a long time because they're low in tannins. This means that, like Assam, they're perfect for preparing masala chai. They're also ideal for making iced tea as they don't go cloudy as they cool.

As well as big tea estates, the area has a large number of smallholders who sell their harvests to local factories for processing. Typically, production has centred around the crush, tear, curl method and the tea bag market. However, as competition from other tea growing areas of the world such as Vietnam and Africa has taken its toll on prices, many growers have changed practice and moved towards organic farming and production of speciality teas.

This is a change which appears to be paying off; glance through the premium teas listed by any specialist tea company and you'll soon notice the strong presence of Nilgiri teas. Twinings, for instance, offer High Grown Nilgiri, or there's Nilgiri Kala Moti (Black pearl)  from Whittard. There's plenty to choose from, so if you fancy a change from your usual cuppa, be sure to try some Nilgiri tea!

References:

Exploring Nilgiri tea
Indian tea culture
History of Nilgiri tea

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