Your Cart

Indian Tea Garden In Kerala

The Essence of Indian Tea: A Journey Through Flavors and Traditions

Jun 08, 2024

Shanika Dasanayaka

The Essence of Indian Tea: A Journey Through Flavors and Traditions

Did you know that the Darjeeling black tea you are sipping has traveled a long way to reach you? It is not just any tea; it has grown in a unique ecosystem, which gives it its refined floral flavor and aroma. There are many special teas like this, produced in specific tea-growing regions. Today, we will focus on one such region: the home of Darjeeling tea and many other unique varieties—India's tea regions.

Tea is deeply intertwined with Indian culture through social events, daily rituals, and the economy. As the second-largest tea producer globally, India boasts over 100,000 tea estates, providing employment to millions.

Exploring Indian Tea

Significance of Tea in Indian Culture and Economy

In India, tea, commonly known as "chai," is more than just a beverage—it is a part of daily life. For years, tea has held cultural significance in both religious and social customs. It is often served at social gatherings as a symbol of hospitality. Offering a cup of tea to any guest is a common welcoming gesture. During social events with friends or family, tea is typically the main beverage.

Tea also plays a role in religious rituals and ceremonies. Beyond being served during festivals and celebrations, in some Hindu traditions, tea is offered as a religious offering (prasad) to devotees as a blessing.

Economically, tea is a major contributor to India's economy, generating billions in revenue. The earnings from tea exports have shown consistent growth over the years. As the second-largest tea producer and the fourth-largest exporter globally, India employs over one million people directly in the tea industry, with an additional million connected indirectly.

Diverse Tea-Growing Regions in India

India’s diverse geography has resulted in various tea-growing regions, each reflecting distinct flavors and characteristics. The main tea-producing regions are Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri.

The Big Three: Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri Teas

Assam Tea

Overview of Assam Tea and its Characteristics

Assam is a large tropical river valley, with the Brahmaputra River to the north and a southern valley adjacent to the Himalayas. The region's hot, humid tropical weather with abundant rainfall produces thick, lush tea plants with large, plentiful leaves. Processed Assam tea leaves result in a strong, full-bodied, and malty tea.

Flavor Profile, Aroma, and Appearance

  • Flavor Profile: Rich, malty flavor with hints of sweetness
  • Aroma: Strong, robust aroma
  • Appearance: Dark and wiry leaves, with a deep amber liquor

Popular Varieties: Orthodox and CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl)

The two main quality designations in Assam tea are Orthodox and CTC.

  • Orthodox Assam: Higher in quality, produced through traditional methods of withering, rolling, oxidation, and firing. Grades include golden tips, FTGFOP1, TGFOP1, and FTGBOP. It has a malty taste, rich color, and lower bitterness compared to CTC tea.
  • CTC Assam: Machine-made through the Cut-Tear-Curl method. Less expensive and of lower quality than Orthodox Assam, it produces an amber-colored liquid with a malty, slightly bitter flavor.

Brewing Recommendations and Serving Suggestions

To brew a perfect cup of Assam tea:

  1. Use 1-1.5 teaspoons of Assam loose-leaf black tea.
  2. Pour 8 ounces of boiling water (205°F) over the tea.
  3. Let it steep for 3-5 minutes.

Assam tea can be served with milk and/or sugar and can be enjoyed hot or cold.

Darjeeling Tea

Introduction to Darjeeling Tea

Darjeeling tea is grown in Northeast India, among the great Himalayas, in the state of West Bengal. The area, at an average elevation of 6,710 feet above sea level, receives about 100 inches of monsoon rainfall during the summer. Darjeeling tea is often referred to as the “Champagne of teas.”

Characteristics of Darjeeling Tea

  • Flavor: Moderately spicy and sweet with a muscatel flavor, featuring mild astringency
  • Aroma: Light with floral and fruity notes
  • Appearance: Light copper-colored liquor with a greenish hue

Grades of Darjeeling Tea

  • First Flush: Harvested from the first week of March to the first week of May during spring, this tea has a delicate muscatel flavor and mild astringency, producing a vibrant red infusion.
  • Second Flush: Considered the best Darjeeling tea, it is harvested from the end of the third week of May to the third week of June (late spring). This tea is full-bodied with a distinct muscatel flavor.
  • Autumnal Flush: The last crop of the year, harvested from the last week of September to the second week of November. This tea is the strongest brew among the flushes, with a bold and robust character and a mellow muscatel note, having passed through the summer, monsoon, and autumn sunshine.

Brewing Tips and Recommended Steeping Times

To enjoy a perfect cup of Darjeeling tea, always use freshly boiled water. For the first flush, the water temperature should be 80-85°C (176-185°F). For the second flush or autumn flush, use water at 85-95°C (185-203°F). Add 3 grams of tea and pour 8 ounces of boiled water over the tea. Allow the tea to steep for 3 minutes. Pour and serve, with or without sweeteners and milk, as per your preference. However, Darjeeling teas often provide the best natural taste without sugar or milk.

To enjoy the nuanced flavors of Darjeeling tea, steep 1 teaspoon of leaves per 8 ounces of water at 185°F (85°C) for 3 minutes for first flush teas, and 4 minutes for second flush teas. Avoid over-steeping to preserve its delicate character.

Nilgiri Tea

Overview of Nilgiri Tea

Nilgiri teas are cultivated over a large geographical area in India, using different varieties of tea at various altitudes. Mainly grown in the Nilgiri region of Tamil Nadu, it extends further south to areas like Munnar and Travancore, and throughout Kerala. About 70% of Nilgiri tea producers are smallholders who belong to the Badagas community.

Characteristics of Nilgiri Tea

  • Flavor: Full-leaf Nilgiri teas have fruity and floral flavors, with a sweet and smooth taste that is gentle on the palate.
  • Aroma: Delicate floral aroma
  • Appearance: Deep amber color

Grades and Types

  • Orthodox Nilgiri Tea: Features a golden yellow liquor with high tones of delicate floral taste.
  • CTC Nilgiri Tea: Produced through the Crush, Tear, Curl process, these teas are bold and robust, ideal for those who prefer a strong cup of tea.

Preparation Methods and Serving Suggestions

To make a refreshing cup of Nilgiri tea:

  1. Heat water to 200°F.
  2. Put a teaspoon of tea into a cup and pour 8 ounces of water.
  3. Steep the tea for 3-5 minutes.

Nilgiri tea works best as an iced tea. To make iced tea, use the same quantity of tea with half the amount of water. The brew will dilute to the proper strength as the ice melts.

Specialty and Rare Indian Teas

Silver Needle White Tea (Darjeeling)

Although 99% of Darjeeling teas are black, some farmers produce luxurious, rare, and delicious white teas called Silver Needle White Tea. These teas are made from tender, unopened buds of the tea plant, picked by hand. It is crucial to handle the teas carefully with minimal processing to preserve their delicate taste. The liquor is a pale golden ivory color, with a refreshing floral taste and mild sweetness.

Castleton Muscatel (Darjeeling)

Castleton Muscatel Darjeeling Tea is one of the most sought-after teas from Darjeeling. The leaves are medium in size and well-rolled, with a special aroma reminiscent of roasted almonds. After brewing for 4 minutes, you will get an amazing cup of tea with bright amber liquor. The second and third steeps yield the best infusion when steeped for 5 minutes. The tea has a rich and smooth flavor with woody and fruity tones, and a soft, silky, sweet mint taste.

Assam Black Tea

Assam Black Tea, grown in the lush, humid region of Assam, India, is renowned for its bold and robust flavor. With its rich, malty taste and hints of sweetness, this tea is a favorite among tea enthusiasts. The deep amber liquor and strong, invigorating aroma make it a perfect morning brew. Often enjoyed with milk and sugar, Assam Black Tea offers a full-bodied experience that energizes and refreshes. Whether sipped in solitude or shared with friends, a cup of Assam black tea is a comforting and uplifting tradition.

Masala Chai Tea

Masala Chai Tea, a quintessential Indian beverage, blends strong black tea with an array of aromatic spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. This spiced tea is traditionally brewed with milk and sweetened to taste, resulting in a rich, flavorful concoction that warms the soul. The robust tea base and the symphony of spices create a unique, invigorating drink enjoyed throughout India and beyond. Whether served hot on a chilly morning or as a refreshing iced tea, Masala Chai embodies the vibrant flavors and cultural heritage of India.


Tea has become a ritual in India rather than just a beverage. As the second-largest tea-producing country, India consumes about 70% of its own tea. Regardless of the hour of the day or the month of the year, drinking a cup of tea is considered essential for a happy and healthy life. Enjoy a cup of Indian tea and experience the exceptional taste and tradition it offers!

Leave a Comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

Join Our CommuniTea