The Potential National Drink of India – Tea

Did you know?

Tea gardens in Assam do not follow the Indian Standard Time (IST), which is the time observed throughout India and Sri Lanka. The local time in Assam’s tea gardens, known as ‘Tea Garden Time’ or Bagantime, is an hour ahead of the IST. The system was introduced during British days keeping in mind the early sunrise in this part of the country.

Tea today is a $40 billion industry, making it, after water, the most popular drink on the planet. India is the second largest producer of tea in the world after China with over 70% of the tea produced consumed within India itself. According a report in 2011, India consumes over 30% of the Global Tea Output.  Tea production, certification, exportation, and all other facets of the tea trade in India is controlled by the Tea Board of India.

Research shows that tea is indigenous to eastern and northern India, and was cultivated and consumed there for thousands of years. Commercial production of tea in India did not begin until the arrival of the British East India Company, at which point large pieces of land were converted for mass tea production.

One of the most popular snippets related to the history of tea drinking in India dates back to the 19th century when an Englishman noticed that the people of Assam drank a dark liquid which was a type of tea brewed from a local wild plant. In the year 1823, a Singpho King offered an English Army Officer tea as a medicinal drink.

tea brewing in the 19th century - tea history

India was the top producer of tea for nearly a century, but China eventually overtook India as the top tea producer due to increased land availability.

Tea Production in India:

There are mainly two ways of producing tea in India namely the CTC production and Orthodox production. CTC is an acronym for crush, tear and curl. The tea produced by this method is mostly used in tea bags. The orthodox production method consists of five stages, namely withering, rolling, fermentation, drying and finally storing. It is not possible to compare the two varieties because their quality depends on factors such as rainfall, soil, wind and the method of plucking of tea leaves and both possess a unique charm of their own.

Majority of the tea factories are located within the premises of the tea estates and this is what accounts for the freshness of the tea.

tea production in india

Tea Growing Regions in India:

The three prominent tea-growing regions in India are Darjeeling, Assam and Nilgiri.

Assam, a high plateau in northern India which spans the Brahmaputra River, is the largest tea-growing region in the world. Jorhat, in the central part of the valley, is often referred to as the “Tea Capital of the World”. The first harvest of the year starts in February. This first flush harvest in Assam has a fragrant, fresh, flowery – and slightly spicier – character than its Darjeeling equivalent, and is a bright, golden yellow in the cup. But the very best, highest-grade, Assam teas are harvested in May-June, during the second flush harvest period.

But there is only one place that produces what has come to be known as “The Champagne of Teas,” a distinctive light brew with a telltale Muscatel flavor: Darjeeling. Many of the tea gardens solicit the same respect as the top vineyards of France. Without the shadow of a doubt, this area, nestled high up in the Himalayas, produces the finest, most aromatic, most sought-after teas in the world.  March to November is the tea plucking season here with around 25% of India’s total tea output.

In the South of India tea is cultivated in the hilly uplands of the provinces Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu at altitudes of 800 to 2000 meters. Nilgiri tea, originally grown in the jungle, is mainly cultivated by small farmers. During the dry season, around the turn of the year, this tea takes on a fine, delicate lemon flavor.

Tea processing in Indian Factory

 

 

Types of Tea Made in India:

By and large, tea drinkers in India drink Milk Tea. There are many other popular variations depending on regional and cultural affiliations. Popular tea brews in Assam are Saah, Ronga saah (red tea without milk). In West Bengal and Bangladesh it is called Cha. In North India, popular tea brews are Masala Chai (most popular in India, Milk tea with a motley of spices in it), Kadak Chai (typically a feature of the mountain community of North India, this is a very strongly brewed tea, almost to the point of bitterness) and Malai Mar Ke Chai (where a generous dollop of full fat cream is spooned into the cup of tea).

how to make masala chai

 

The Indian Tea Culture:

Tea or Chai is ubiquitous in India. It is the perfect drink for India’s hot weather because the hot tea triggers the body’s natural cooling reflexes and actually helps bring your body temperature down. Most Indians drink Chai at least twice a day, once with breakfast and again for an afternoon tea, just like the British.

a cup of masala chai in india