Explore the Famous Teas of India

If you want quality black teas, look to India

Indian tea pickers plucking tea leaves in Munnar
Indian tea pickers plucking tea leaves in Munnar. Bartosz Hadyniak/Getty Images

India is one of the world's leading countries in tea production and it grows some of the very best. Though it produces all varieties of tea, it is best known for its black teas, including Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri. Of course, there is also that well-loved spicy chai, which uses the country's rich spices.

The geography of India allows for many different climatic conditions, and the resulting teas can be dramatically distinctive from each other. In general, the black teas of India are known to be strong, bright, and some have rather delicate flavors.

Tea Production in India

Tea is such a large commodity in India that the Tea Board India handles its regulations, research, and promotions. The Tea Board is continually tracking and developing ways to improve the quality of India's teas. They also provide resources to the many small growers, large plantations, and tea processors, warehouses, and other businesses associated with the industry.

India is the top tea producer in the world, producing as many as 1 billion kilograms of tea each year. It is the fourth largest in tea exports, behind Kenya, China, and Sri Lanka, respectively. Worldwide, black tea is seeing an increasingly higher demand, which sets the famous black teas of India in a good position. China remains the leader in the production of green tea.

Not only does India grow a lot of tea, they drink a lot of it as well. India accounts for 19 percent of all tea consumption in the world. Nearly 76 percent of the tea produced in the country is enjoyed within its borders. This domestic demand outshines other leading tea producing countries, particularly Kenya and Sri Lanka, which export more tea than their populations consume.

Nearly every part of India has a tea-growing region and it is home to over 14,000 tea estates. It is cultivated in 15 Indian states, with Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala producing the highest yields as well as the finest teas.

The diverse climates in each region set each tea apart. There are three distinct types of black tea which the country is most famous for.

Assam

Assam tea comes from the northeastern section of the country. This heavily forested region is home to much wildlife, including the Indian rhinoceros. The tea of the region is grown at a relatively low altitude in soil that is rich and loamy.

The state of Assam produces the most tea in India and is home to the country's largest tea research center. It was in Assam that the first tea estate was established in 1837.

Tea from here is rich and full-bodied, very bright and very strong, and it is a tea that can be enjoyed with milk or sugar. You will find this tea to be malty, with a deep amber color. It embodies everything that is characteristic of a fine Indian black tea. Assam Orthodox tea—hand-processed tea—is one of the best available and is only grown on estates in the Assam Valley.

Darjeeling

The Darjeeling region is cool, wet, and tucked in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains at altitudes of 600 to 2,000 meters. The tea is exquisite and delicately flavored and considered to be one of the finest teas in the world.

Darjeeling teas tend to be golden or amber colored. You will often notice a floral or fruit flavor. This is the one style that many connoisseurs would never think about adding milk, sugar, or any other additive.

The Darjeeling plantations have three distinct harvests, each of which is called a "flush" and produces a unique flavor. First-flush teas are light and aromatic, while the second flush produces tea with a bit more bite. The third, or autumn, flush gives a tea that is lesser in quality.

When buying Darjeeling teas, you will often find the flush noted on the package. You can expect first-flush teas to be higher priced and third-flush to be the lowest.

Nilgiri

Nilgiri tea comes from an even higher part of India than Darjeeling. This southern Indian region is located in the Blue Mountains (or Nilgiris) at elevations between 1,000 and 2,500 meters. The first teas in the area were planted by Europeans in the 1850s and the area is also known for green teas.

The flavors of Nilgiri teas are subtle and gently elegant. They have a golden yellow color and are very fragrant. The flavor is distinct in the world of tea and has floral tones with a creamy mouthfeel. Nilgiri teas are frequently blended with more robust teas as well.

Chai

Besides the different kinds of tea that come from India, there is also a unique style of making tea. It's called masala chai and it has become a popular beverage throughout the world. Even major coffee and tea chains serve chai in North America and prepared chai is available at many markets. 

There are many recipes for making chai. The basic ingredients are black tea, milk, sugar, and spices. It's the combination of spices that makes chai so wonderful. The most common are cardamom, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, and peppercorns.

Chai is a different experience from the standard cup of tea. It's fascinating and soothing, even with its distinct spice. If you have not tried it yet, it will be worth your time.