The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
The Teas of India
Diverse Teas From a Diverse Country
When you think of India, exotic images come to mind, from wildlife to terrain, to
its colorful people.  From jungles to mountains and deserts, to crowded, bustling
cities, India is a place of diversity and extremes.
India is the world's largest
tea producer, famous for its
Assam, Nilgiri, and Darjeeling
black teas. India's tea is produced by millions
of tea workers on over 110,000 tea estates,
and much of what it produces is consumed
by its own people, putting it at number four
in world exports in 2005, behind
China,
Kenya, and Sri Lanka.

Surrounded by water on three sides; the
Bay of Bengal to the east, the Arabian Sea
to the west, and the Indian Ocean on the
south, India's northern border is defined by
the magnificent Himalayan Mountains.

Each of India's tea growing regions features
considerably different terrain, geography,
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and climate, with northeastern India divided by the Brahmaputra and Barak valleys where
Assam tea is made.  The northern Bengal plains of Dooars and Terai, along with the Darjeeling
Hills are home to Darjeeling teas, and the Nilgiri Mountains (Blue Hills) in the states of Kerala
                                               and Tamil Nadu provide the only tea-producing area in southern
                                               India, home to Nilgiri teas.

                                               Assam
                                               The Brahmaputra River, one of the longest rivers in the world,
                                               runs through the middle of the region of Assam, which is for the
                                               most part a large tropical river valley, with a few areas of higher
                                               elevation.

The rich, fertile plains that feed Assam's
many tea gardens are provided by the
Brahmaputra river watershed.  The south-
ern region of Assam is fed by the Barak
River, which forms the Surma Valley, where
the smaller Cachar tea district is located
and supported.

The Assam region produces the largest
quantity of India's tea with both mass-mar-
ket CTC (cut-tear-curl) and premium teas
produced there.  Unfortunately the price for
mass-market tea has plummeted, and be-
tween 2003 and 2005 over 150 Assam tea
growers closed their gardens, no longer
able to compete in the market.

         Luckily, many others decided to upgrade  the quality of their leaf, moving into the
         
specialty tea market as demand for low-grade  tea fell, and worldwide demand for
         quality teas has steadily increased, with no apparent end in sight.

         Assam orthodox teas have two distinct flavor profiles; mature,  tippy leaves with a
         creamy, full-bodied flavor, and the second, a  more crisp, briskly defined flavor with highly
         nuanced aromas, both with a dark, red-brown liquor.

         Darjeeling
         The Darjeeling tea region wends its way up from the foothills of
         the Himalaya's past the town of Darjeeling, located at 7,100 feet,
         winding its way through valleys and small tea towns along the
         way.

         Because of the many deep valleys, high ridges, and changes in
         elevation, the Darjeeling tea growing region has a varied climate.
         Long, cold winters give way to sunshine and cool breezes from
         April through June, turning to heavy monsoon rains in late summer.

         Like China's Wuyi Shan
rock and cliff oolongs, India's Darjeeling black teas are totally
         unique, as no where else on earth can the exact same
terroir, the combination of climate
         and terrain be found.  Darjeeling teas grow in thin, rocky, well drained and slightly acidic
         soil, on steep valley slopes, in gardens that range in elevation from 1,800 to 6,300 feet.

         Where once over 200 Darjeeling tea gardens were in operation, today there are barely
         over 70 distinct gardens remaining, many having been combined with others or consoli-
         dated under new owners.

         Darjeeling teas are a soft golden amber when brewed, with a delicate, soft flowery
         flavor likened to the sweetness of peaches and apricots, and sometimes described as
         "muskatel."

         Nilgiri
         Last comes India's Nilgiri teas, grown high in the Nilgiri Moun-
         tains (or Blue Hills) in the state of Tamil Nadu.  Lush forests
         and jungles provide the perfect climate and geography for
         growing Nilgiri black tea.

         From soft undulating foothills, to the highest peaks of 8,000
         feet or more, the tea bushes thrive in the varied micro-climate
         
of lush forests, tropical jungles, mist covered valleys, grasslands, high, sunny plateaus,
and a multitude of rivers and streams.

Most Nilgiri tea is
CTC (cut-tea-curl) used to fill tea bags, even though many good or even exceptional orthodox teas
are made in the Nilgiri region.

Nilgriri teas are known as "the fragrant ones," with bright, distinctive flavors that do not cloud when making
iced tea,
but retain a clear and vivid color.

                                                  Facing a glut of CTC teas in the market, forcing prices down, many Nilgiri tea grow-
                                                  ers like their Assam cousins are turning to specialty and
organic tea production to
                                                  stand out in the West's marketplace, where there is always room for more quality
                                                  orthodox teas.

                                                  Also, like their Darjeeling cousins, many fine orthodox Nilgiri teas have delicate fruity
                                                  flavors and soft flowery aromas, while others can be a bit more assertive.  Nilgiri's
                                                  winter plucked teas, called "frost teas" are also unique and flavorful.  
Enjoy.
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