The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
India - The World's Largest Tea Producer
India is the world's largest tea producer (followed closely by China, who has
edged it out for the #1 spot some years).  Over 100,000 tea estates with over
a million workers, produce close to a million metric tons of tea a year.  Because
India consumes much of its own tea, it was 4th in exports in 2005, behind China,
Kenya, and Sri Lanka.
Even though it's easy to assume
they have been producing it for
much longer, tea production is relatively new to
India.

Named for the areas in which they are grown,
India's tea was originally produced by the British
Empire when British industrialists established the
first tea plantations in their colonies.

These early teas were designed to be strong and
hearty, with plenty of pucker, meant to be drunk
with plenty of milk and sugar.

In the late 18th cen-
tury the first native
tea plants were dis-
covered growing in
Assam.  It wasn't until 1834, though, that commercial plantations
were planted, using seeds from the
Chinese tea plant Camellia
sinensis var. assamica.  These plants readily flourished and the
                                                first shipment of Indian Assam tea was shipped in 1838, and
                                                sold at the London Tea Auctions in 1839.

                                                Tea production quickly spread during the 1850's, first north-
                                                wards to Darjeeling and Bengal, then to Nilgiri in the Blue
                                                Mountains of India's southwestern tip.  Production increased
                                                from 180 tons in 1853, to 6,600 tons in 1870, 35,000 tons in
                                                1885, and by 1947, when India finally won independence from
Britain, yearly tea production was a whopping 277,000 tons.

Producing all this tea, though, was another
matter entirely.  In the beginning the British
tried imitating China's style of processing
tea, but quickly realized how impractical
this was.

For one thing, no one had ever tried making
this amount of tea, this quickly.  In the time
it took for Chinese tea makers to wither
their tea, Britain's tea rotted in the hot,
humid moisture laden air.  So, being the
bright industrialists they were, they devised
machines to do what before had been done
by hand.  Withering tables were invented
to speed up evaporation that softened the
tea for rolling.  They then went on to invent
the very first rolling machines, one appro-
priately called the Brittania, which is still used
today in many of India's tea gardens.

India's three main growing regions, Assam, Darjeel-
ing, and Nilgiri are all considerably different, each with its own
unique climate and geography.

                                                The region of Assam lies at the foothills of the eastern Hima-
                                                laya's, in the far northeastern corner of India.  The Himalaya
                                                mountain range traps the hot and humid air from the monsoons,
                                                preventing it from dissapating and blowing north away from
                                                Assam.  The abundant rainfall from the monsoons causes the
                                                Brahmaputra river, which runs through the center of the region,
                                                to overflow, depositing a rich, fertile coat of new topsoil each
                                                year.

Assam grows the largest quantity of tea in India, producing both mass-market
ctc (cut-tea-curl)
tea, and premium
specialty or orthodox teas.

The small hill town of Darjeeling lies in the foothills of the beautiful
snow-capped Himalayan Mountains.  In contrast to low lying Assam,
Darjeeling's tea gardens range in elevation from 2,000 to 7,000 feet
(the town of Darjeeling is at 7,100 feet).

With the many changes in elevation, going from high ridges, down to
low valleys, Darjeeling has a varied climate.  With long, cold winters, cool spring breezes with
abundant sunshine, and quenching monsoonal rains in late summer, providing plenty of
moisture to grow premium
Darjeeling teas.

                                                Darjeeling has four distinct pluckings.  The first and second
                                                spring flush, late summer flush, and lastly, an autumnal flush.
                                                Darjeelings First Flush spring teas are as eagerly anticipated as
                                                
China's Qing Ming, and Japan's First Flush Sencha teas.

                                                The lush, high forests and jungles of the Nilgiri (Blue Hill)
                                                Mountains in southern Nilgiri is home to India's
Nilgiri teas.
                                                Growing on a series of high altitude ridges running along the
                                                western
portion of the state of Tamil Nadu, this area, like that of Darjeeling and Assam, also provides
the perfect climate for growing tea.

Like Darjeeling, the climate varies because of the range of altitude, going from softly undulating
foothills at the base of the Nilgiri's to elevations of 8,200 feet at the highest point.

Although tea is plucked all year long, the best comes from Decem-
ber to March, producing what are called "frost teas," with a bright,
brisk flavor similar to Ceylon teas, grown by their neighbors to the
east,
Sri Lanka.

Today India produces a mixture of CTC and orthodox specialty teas.
But with so many countries producing ctc teas, mainly used in
tea
bag blends, the price has dropped dramatically, forcing many tea gardens to close.

With over 13,000 tea gardens and a workforce of over a million employees, who in turn
generate an income for  another ten million people, tea production is at the apex of India's
economy.
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That's why the government, along with the Tea Board of India has worked steadily to help solve problems faced by
the country's tea growers.  A Special Purpose Tea Fund has been pledged by the government to help fund cutting
and pruning of old tea bushes and replant fields more than 40 years old.  It is hoped that the rejuvenation and
replanting efforts help increase the quantity and quality of India's tea, and that overseas buyers take note and
respond to their efforts.

                                               The Tea Board is also hoping to address a problem of misleading labelling of India tea
                                               being marketed as "Pure Assam," and "Pure Darjeeling," when in fact the teas in
                                               question were actually blended with teas from other countries.

                                               The Tea Marketing Board has launched a campaign in recent years to assure buyers
                                               that India's Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri teas are genuinely 100% tea from those
                                               regions.  They have begun labelling their teas with a new distinctive logo displayed on
                                              all packaging.  Additionally they have stepped up efforts to monitor packers and
blenders with regular checks to guarantee the tea is 100% Indian.  
Enjoy.