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From Assam to Darjeeling: The Most Complete Guide to Indian Tea

There are hundreds of different types of tea in the world. In order not to get confused, we group them by different parameters, for example, by country of origin. One of these countries is India. It ranks second in the world in tea exports. 

01. Picking Indian tea on a plantation

But what do we know about tea from the country that gave us yoga, Buddhism and Bollywood? Why does it occupy a significant part of the storefronts in any hypermarket today? Let's take it in order.

How Many Types of Tea are Known to Science?

It is customary to distinguish six types of tea created on the basis of the Camellia sinensis plant: black, green, yellow, white, oolong and pu-erh. In addition, tea can be divided into types:

  • by type of tea leaf,
  • by the form of issue,
  • by the presence of additives,
  • by place of origin.

 02. Indian girl drinking tea

A Brief History of Indian Tea

The tea leaf as a plant has been familiar to the inhabitants of India since ancient times: there are documentary evidence that Hindus used it for food in the first centuries of our era. But as a drink, it gained popularity in this country only in the XVIII century – thanks to the British.

You've probably heard many times the story about how the British decided that it was too expensive to buy tea in China, and stole tea seeds from the Celestial Empire. The seeds and seedlings smuggled out successfully (though not at one dash) took root on the Indian soil, and by the 1820s the British East India Company had begun large-scale tea production in Assam.

Thirty years later, the scale of production became so impressive that the Chinese realized that their tea monopoly and influence on the economy of Great Britain (and the rest of the world) would never be the same. By the beginning of the XX century, the Indian tea had become a monumental foundation of the global tea business – as powerful as an elephant, which is often depicted on packages with this product.

It is worthy of note that although the tea industry in India began with 80,000 seeds of the Camellia sinensis var. sinensis purchased in China (Chinese camellia), as a result, most of the Indian plantations today are planted with Camellia sinensis var. assamica bushes. Yes, this is the same plant that grew in India initially (were the machinations of the XVIII century worth such an effort?).

Today, India is the second largest producer and exporter of tea, producing about 1.5 million tons of this product per year.

03. indian tea set

Varieties of Indian Tea

There can be many types of Indian tea, but there are four varieties – in four regions where tea plantations are spread out. These are Darjeeling, Assam, Nilgiri and Sikkim.

Darjeeling

The most famous tea of Indian expensive tea varieties is grown on the mountain slopes of the Himalayas, harvested by hand, and bears the same name as the city in the north of West Bengal. Darjeeling is especially highly valued in Britain, to which it owes its appearance. It is this variety that is produced from the leaf of the plant Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, imported from China, and therefore it tastes significantly different from other Indian varieties.

However, the British are not the only ones who can appreciate the taste qualities of Darjeeling: it is considered premium in other countries. And this is not surprising, because real Darjeeling is produced exclusively from the top two leaves and buds, and to get one kilogram of this tea, you need to manually pick more than ten thousand such leaves. Most of Darjeeling is used to produce black tea, but green tea and oolong are sometimes made from this variety, as well. The taste of Darjeeling is delicate and refined.

Interestingly, the first spring harvest of Darjeeling looks and tastes more like green tea: it has a light infusion and a delicate taste, which is why it is often called "tea champagne". However, according to the cooking technology, it still belongs to the black variety.

Check this Richard Royal Darjeeling

 04. freshly picked Indian tea leaves

Assam

The most famous and popular of the budget varieties of Indian tea. It is posssible to say that most of all black tea on the world market is Assam. Its cost can be very different depending on the method of collection and processing. A tart, rich, bright assam is made from the tea plant Camellia sinensis var. assamica, which by its nature is considered not a bush, but a tree, and can grow up to 20 meters in height (but, as a rule, it is not allowed to do this).

The most of the plantations are located in the Assam region. The collection technology in most cases is mechanized, that is, it is produced by machine. The wide areas of plantations and a simplified production scheme make it possible to maintain the cost of this variety at an affordable level.

Check this - Richard Royal Assam Granulated

Nilgiri

The name of Nilgiri is a large mountain range in the Himalayas, as well as the name of the district at the foot of these mountains and the tea that is grown there. Nilgiri has a soft and delicate, but at the same time rich taste. Like Darjeeling, it belongs to elite varieties and is quite rarely found on sale in its pure form rather than in a blend. A distinctive feature of this tea is that it grows on mountain slopes at an altitude of up to 2000 meters above sea level, and can be harvested all year round rather than in certain seasons (however, it is more often done only twice a year - in spring and autumn). Machine harvesting of this variety is impossible, which significantly affects the price and quality. Basically, Nilgiri becomes the basis for black tea, but there are exceptions in the form of white tea, green tea and oolong.

 05 .indian beautiful girl adds milk to tea

Sikkim

It is the youngest variety of Indian tea, comparable to Darjeeling in quality. The tea cultivation in Sikkim began in 1969. The leaves are harvested by hand at an altitude of 1000-2000 meters above sea level and are considered 100% organic. The harvest is collected three times a year (in spring, summer and autumn), the spring harvest is considered the most valuable one.

The Sikkim variety is a base for green, white and oolong teas, in addition to black tea. The tea has golden shades, a sweet taste and a light floral aftertaste. Most of the harvest remains inside the country, while only 25% is exported.

 06. teapot with tea and 6 glasses of tea

Masala

Hindus, as a rule, prefer to drink tea with milk, although, to be more precise, they drink milk with tea. At the same time, sometimes it is diluted with water, and sometimes it is not. 

 07. company of young people in india drinking tea

The classic way of making Indian Masala tea is as follows: put the tea leaves in milk and bring to a boil on the stove, add a mixture of spices and sugar.

The famous Indian tea with spices has long been the hallmark of this country and its cuisine. If desired, you can find Masala in the form of tea or powder, which is poured with hot water, like matcha, and turns into a ready-made drink in a few seconds. Connoisseurs prefer to cook such tea on their own, on the stove. In any case, Masala is considered useful for immunity, it increases resistance to colds and helps to keep warm in cold weather.

Interesting Facts About Indian Tea

  • According to the types of processing, Indian tea is divided into three main types: leaf, pressed and powdered. In India itself, granulated tea is especially appreciated for its bright and strong infusion. As for export, large- and small-leaf teas are supplied most often.
  • Hindus, like us, use the word "chai" to refer to their favorite drink.
  • The CTC technology, which is was very popular in the production of tea, was invented in India to process primarily Indian tea. Today it is used all over the world.
  • India is the world's second largest producer and largest consumer of tea.

 08. old man from india making tea

How to Brew Indian Tea

Classic black Indian Assam is best brewed in a standard way. To do this, take 2-3 grams of brew for every 150 ml of water, pour boiling water over it and let it infuse for 5 minutes. Before the first brewing, the tea can be rinsed (pour boiling water over the tea and then immediately pour the water out), and the teapot can be warmed up. Both will have a positive effect on the taste and quality of tea. It is very important to use clean filtered water, preferably bottled.

If you are lucky enough to buy Darjeeling, Nilgiri or Sikkim, use water with a temperature of about 90 degrees for them. The same applies to Indian oolongs. The white and green tea from India should be brewed with water of no more than 75 - 80 degrees.

 09. Indian tea plantations

How to Choose Indian Tea

So many men, so many tastes. Someone likes only large-leaf black tea, someone likes tea bags, and someone likes granulated tea, prepared by the CTC method. The only thing is invariable: a dry tea should be fragrant, odorless and free of impurities of garbage. As a rule, the more expensive the tea, the better its quality is, but often the most affordable packages hide inside themselves an excellent product that fully meets your expectations.


Author: Elena Kocheshkova, journalist

Expert: Andrey Skidan, a teatester and a Richard brand tea production manager

Translator: Irina Ershova

Source: tea.ru


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