|Nilgiri - Producing Both Quality and Quantity
|About 1,500 miles south of the tea growing regions of Assam and Darjeeling,
high in the lush forests and jungles of the Nilgiri Mountains (or Blue Mountains)
that run down the southwestern tip of India from Kerala to Tamil Nadu, lies the
tea growing region of Nilgiri.
|The Nilgiri Mountains rise from
around 1,000 feet at the low-
er elevations, with softly rolling foothills to
over 8,000 feet at the highest peaks. Even
though the area is just 35 miles long and 20
miles wide there are nearly 150,000 acres of
tea covering valleys, slopes, and hills for as
far as the eye can see.
With its range of elevations, ample rainfall,
lush forests and jungles, misty valleys, a
series of high, sunny plateaus dropping down
to gently undulating grasslands and a multi-
tude of rivers and streams, the Nilgiri tea
growing region is as close to perfect as you
can get for tea to grow lush and plentiful.
|In 1835 an Englishman named Mann is said to have been the first
person to plant jat (tea planter's term for China bush garden in Nil-
giri. The seed given to him to plant had been designed specifically
for the English to grow tea in this area.
Unfortunately the Opium War prevented any further development
or planting until 1959. Later it was both the English and Scottish
that developed tea plantations in Nilgiri. That is why today there
still exist tea estates named Dunsandle and Burnside, next to those named Kairbetta and
One of the first tea estates built in 1859
was Thiashola which is still in operation to-
day, acquiring organic certification in 2003.
After British rule ended in 1947, many tea
estates became privately owned. Today
there are more than 20,000 small land own-
ers and a few large tea estates in Nilgiri pro-
The Nilgiri region experiences two monsoons
a year, the southwest and the northeast,
giving the tea two distinct wet and dry sea-
sons. Each season is an important part of
the flavor characteristics taken on by the tea.
The tropical climate of Nilgiri is closer to that of neighboring Sri Lanka, than to India's northern
growing regions of Assam and Darjeeling. That's one of the reasons Nilgiri tea shares more
similarities with Ceylon teas than it does with its Assam and Darjeeling cousins.
Plucking is carried out throughout the year, but the main
season is from December to March. The tea plucked during
this season is called "frost tea," for the frosty, cooler winter
weather, and the real threat of frost that could damage the
The Nilgiri tea growing region produces about 200,000 met-
ric tons of tea which accounts for about 25% of India's total
Known as "the fragrant ones," Nilgiri teas are flavorful, brisk, and bright. One distinct
characteristic of Nilgiri teas is that they don't cloud when making iced tea, but remain a
nice clear color.
Even though recently they have begun to produce a few
orthodox teas, most Nilgiri tea produced is CTC black
tea used in blended teas and for tea bag blends. CTC
teas are so named for the steps in their production pro-
cess; cut-tear-curl (or crush tear-curl).
Invented in 1931 by Sir William McKercher, to crush, tear,
and curl the fresh tea leaves in one simple process, the
machine revolutionized tea production forever.
The CTC machine is like a huge sieve, with fresh leaves fed in then extruded out as tiny
bright green pellets. They are then carried along on a conveyor belt as air is blown from
above by powerful blowers, with oxidation taking place in less than an hour.
Today nearly 95% of the world's tea is CTC tea, which is also the primary ingredient in
tea bags. While Nilgiri was once the market leader in CTC tea production it now faces
stiff competition from countries like Argentina and Vietnam, providing a glut of tea and
driving down prices for all.
So, together with recent changes in the global economy,
along with low prices for its main export-CTC tea, Nilgiri is
being hit twice as hard.
To help turn things around Nilgiri growers have begun con-
centrating on quality rather than quantity. Many growers
are turning to organic tea production as a way to single
themselves out in the marketplace.
|For more information or to learn more about tea, visit our other pages:
Which three teas is India most famous for?
Who is the world's largest tea producer?
How much loose tea should I use for my 24 ounce
How much tea should I use to make a gallon of
What is kombucha tea and how is it made?
How should flavored teas be stored?
Which teas come from India?
Why are Darjeeling teas more expensive?
Which tea is used in Japan's traditional tea ceremony?
Which of India's three major growing regions is the largest and called the "tea basket?"
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|Some others are also working on producing orthodox specialty teas such as Nilgiri green and Khukri Hari green. This
is a smart move as the market for orthodox specialty teas is continually growing, with no signs of slowing down,
meaning there is more than enough room for more distinguished, flavorful teas like those from Nilgiri. Enjoy.