|India's Black Teas-Strong and Robust
Gets a Lesson in Mellow and Honeyed
|When India won its independence from Britain in 1947 their annual tea product-
ion stood at about 275,000 tons (28 million kg). Today, the amount of tea being
grown has risen by approximately 40%, with tea production increasing by nearly
250%. That's phenomenal growth by anyone's standards.
|In 2007 India's government
proposed a $48 billion Special
Purpose tea fund to replant tea fields with
bushes over forty years old and cut and
prune old tea bushes.
The hope is that with replanting and rejuven-
ation both the quality and quantity of India's
tea will attract new buyers overseas.
Today India produces a mixture of both CTC
and orthodox black teas, and while some
manufacturers concentrate mainly on CTC
production for tea bags, others are working
on producing new styles of specialty orthodox
teas to meet the ever growing demand by
consumers for this type of tea. The market
|for traditional specialty black teas, green teas, white, and oolong teas has steadily grown with
no signs of slowing down.
All three of India's major tea growing regions, Darjeeling, Assam,
and Nilgiri have worked steadily over the past few years to not only
improve the quality of India's teas, but to come up with new and
innovative styles and types of orthodox specialty teas as well.
Over the last 30 to 40 years India tea growers and producers have
taken advantage of modernizations in production methods and also tea delivery, with improve-
ments in everything from vacuum fresh packaging, to timely air transport of teas.
One example of new innovations is found in
production methods for Darjeeling tea. Dar-
jeeling tea was first produced in the 1830's
by the British. The British tea plantations
that grew Darjeeling tea marketed it as the
"Champagne of Teas," even though it was far
from it. In reality it was a heavy, dark, and
strong tea in dire need of a large dose of milk
British rule ended in 1947, and their influence
in India's tea production began little by little to
fade. By the late 1960's in search of a new
audience for their tea, an Indian dealer and
broker put their heads together in an effort to
make Darjeeling tea lighter and more mellow.
Their first step was to ask the pickers to pluck only the most flavorful part of the plant,
snipping the young leaf sets of two leaves and a bud (following China's oolong
Their second step was to expand the withering time, giving
the leaf more time to build up the enticing aromas, giving
them a lighter, soft green color.
Next came withering. Because Darjeeling's climate is cold
and damp, the leaves are withered in heated troughs. By
experimenting, the two found that if left in the troughs for a
period of time after the leaves became limp, strong aromas similar to those of oolongs
began to develop is as well as other complex flavors. Known as a "hard wither" this
method still used today.
Hard withering works by deactivating a percentage of the
enzymes that turns green leaves brown. Hard withering
affects different cultivars with different degrees of
change. Many gardens use a variety of different clones,
which is why you'll find a mixture of both black and green
leaves in good quality Darjeelings.
Their next step was to carefully adjust the rolling process, ensuring the teas weren't
overheated, loosing their flavors due to too much friction or pressure. Finally they
monitored the oxidation of the leaf, and cut the firing time significantly to enhance the
improvements made to the flavor, so as not to overpower it with a heavy roasted taste
from firing for too long.
What they ended up with was a full range of aromatic, flavorful
teas, from the bright, fresh, First Flush Darjeelings to the more
subdued Second Flush, to the mellow, yet assertive Autumnal
Next comes Assam black teas with their swirling brown leaves,
golden tips, and honeyed, malty, yet assertive and brisk flavors.
Assam is India's tea basket, and with its subtropical conditions
and excessive moisture, the tea plants heartily thrive.
Unlike Darjeelings hard withering, Assam leaves wither quickly, in just 18 hours or less.
The Assam tea makers also roll and oxidize the teas quickly. The end result is some of
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|Assam's finest orthodox black teas with sweet, malty, honeyed notes, yet brisk and assertive flavors.
India's third major tea growing region is Nilgiri which is a major producer of ctc teas, rather than orthodox teas.
Nilgiri means "blue mountain," and is part of the Western Ghats Mountain range in southern India, one of the most
beautiful, scenic regions in the country.
The British established the first tea plantations here in 1854, which grew to sever-
al hundred by the time their reign ended in 1947. After their independence from
Britain, the Nilgiri region became a major ctc producer which they still maintain
That's not to say they lack quality. Nilgiri "frost tea," named for its production
during the cold winter months of December through February, grows more slowly in
the cold. This helps it develop more aromatic compounds which are more concen-
trated. This helps to draw out the more fruity, floral, and spice notes, along with its characteristic brisk and assertive
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