An overview of Indian Tea
Aside from China, no other country on the planet produces as much tea on an annual basis as India does – with production increasing year after year consistently.
According to the World Atlas, India produces slightly over 1.325 billion tons of tea on an annual basis. This is about 1 billion tons less than the number one tea-producing nation on the planet in China – but it is more than 1 billion tons more than the third-place nation on the list, Kenya.
It’s no secret that the people living throughout India absolutely love drinking tea on a daily basis, but it’s also no secret that the landscape and varied climates across India produce some of the best and most fertile lands on the planet for producing exciting, exotic, and interesting tea options, too.
With so many different Indian tea options to pick and choose from finding a favorite is a real challenge – but that’s exactly the kind of problem tea lovers and enthusiasts the world over aren’t going to complain about anytime soon.
Below we have put together a bit of a quick guide covering the most popular tea varieties grown and produced in India today, the kinds of tea options that have become synonymous with this part of the world and the kind of tea that customers around the world eagerly snap up and enjoy at every opportunity.
Let’s get right to it!
Quick History of Indian Tea
While tea originally was discovered just over 5000 years ago in China, it has grown and evolved from its earliest days as an almost 100% medicinal herb to something that people enjoy as a beverage all over the planet – regardless of whether or not they are looking exclusively for health-boosting benefits.
In India, however, tea wasn’t really a staple of the culture or the economy until the British introduced its nationwide in the early 1800s.
The whole idea here was to take advantage of the incredible climate that India had to offer to produce so much tea that the British would finally be able to break through the monopoly that the Chinese had had on tea almost from day one.
At this point in time India remained under the rule of the United Kingdom (and really by the East India Trading Company). Governors offered free land to anyone willing to settle the Assam region of India and grow tea for the UK, and offer that hundreds of thousands of people took advantage of over the next 100 years.
Interestingly enough, however, the people of India – even though they were responsible for growing so much of the tea they were producing – were a little bit slower to adopt drinking it on a casual or daily basis.
In fact, tea drinking in India remained reserved to only the most privileged individuals in the caste system and it wasn’t until the 1950s that people of all classes in India really started to embrace everything that Indian tea had to offer.
This was all done as part of a big push by the governmental India Tea Board, an organization that not only wanted the people of India to get excited about the tea that they were growing but also wanted to begin exporting some of the tea produced in this country that isn’t possible to find anywhere else.
Assam tea, Darjeeling tea, and Munnar tea are options that you simply won’t be able to find growing naturally anywhere else on the planet. On top of that, taking seeds and trying to grow them in other climates aside from their “home” in India has proven to be next to impossible as well.
Major Tea Production Regions in India Today
Even though tea plants are grown throughout the entirety of India today, the truth of the matter is there are three major growing regions that produce the overwhelming majority of tea options in this country.
These regions are Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri. Each of these regions has its own specific climate, its own specific soil composition, different humidity levels, and a variety of other environmental factors that have a huge impact on the flavor and biochemistry of the tea that grows within these major “bubbles” of production.
Tea grown in the Assam region, for example, is going to share a lot of characteristics with tea grown in China. These areas have similar climates, have similar humidity levels, and the tea that is grown in this part of India is pretty identical (genetically, anyway) to the kind of green tea that is commonly produced in China, too.
Interestingly enough, though, the overwhelming majority of tea that is grown and harvested throughout India is of the black tea variety. Sure, there are some states throughout these three main regions that are pumping out green, white, and yellow tea as well – but the people of India in particular absolutely love black tea and the options they grow here are prized internationally, too.
Of all the three regions, the Darjeeling region is home to some of the most exclusive strains of tea India produces.
The landscape here is very hilly as it sits in the foothills of the Himalayas. It’s high-altitude and heavy mists provide for a unique climate for tea plants to grow in, and the growing season here is considerably shorter than what you might find in other parts of India.
This means that smaller crop yields are going to come out of Darjeeling, making the tea that ends up being harvested and sold commercially some of the most exclusive – and pricey – tea money can buy anywhere on the planet.
The Nilgiri region of India is the ancestral home to the entire Indian tea market, having been home to the very first tea plantation ever opened up with commercial prospects in mind. This all happened in 1859 by a British citizen named Mr. Mann – an individual that took Chinese tea seeds directly from Robert Fortune and planted them high up in the Blue Mountain region of this part of India.
That small estate produced so much tea that it was able to acquire more land in the same region, and over the next decade, there were several hundred tea estates that popped up at high elevations throughout this part of the country.
Today some of the very best tea coming out of this region is produced throughout the dry season (December through March), with bright, flavorful, and highly fragrant tea options more commonly than not grown here.
Finding the Best Indian Tea
If you are serious about getting your hands on the highest quality Indian tea available you’re going to want to make sure that you zero in on the key details we share below.
For starters, you’re going to want to make sure that you are actually purchasing Indian tea that was grown, harvested, and cultivated in India as opposed to “India style” teas that may be grown elsewhere around the world.
As we have touched on a couple of times throughout this quick guide it’s the unique climate, landscape, soil, and even humidity levels across India that give their tea such a distinct profile and personality. When you strip out the plants and grow them elsewhere you might get a hint of the essence of what that tea could have been if it was grown in India, but it won’t ever be a 1:1 clone of the real deal.
Secondly, you’re going to want to make sure that you are purchasing looseleaf tea whenever you have the opportunity to do so.
Sure, those tiny little teabags are super convenient and easy to dispose of but they aren’t going to be able to give you the full Indian tea experience – not by a longshot.
High-quality teas like Darjeeling should only ever be consumed when brewed from a looseleaf source (an infuser is a big help here), giving you an opportunity to brew tea that can open up, reveal all of its flavors and aromas, and maintain all of its powerful phytochemicals and other all-natural healing properties.
Lastly, you’ll want to be certain that you are shopping with a 100% reputable and reliable provider of Indian teas.
Not every company in this industry has a rock-solid reputation, not every company offers competitive prices and lightning fast shipping, and not every company in this industry works with farmers and cultivators that follow the old traditional methods of picking Indian tea by hand, treating it delicately and with respect, and packaging it so that it arrives to you as fresh as humanly possible.
You’ll want to be sure that your working with companies that understand just how incredible Indian teas can be, how delicate they can be at the same time, and goes to great lengths to make sure that you get the best possible experience with every cup of Indian tea you brew.
As long as you focus on the key details highlighted above you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. Even the most exclusive Indian tea produced today is far more available now than ever before (and more affordable, too), so don’t be shy about giving all different kinds of Indian tea a shot when you have an opportunity to do so!