There’s not much doubt in the fact that India is a very geographically diverse country, having tea as an integral part of the subcontinent for ages. Tea has always been a part and parcel of the country’s culture, and that’s why India produces a huge variety of teas. The Nilgiri tea growing region is one of the most popular varieties that’s known for its unique aroma and flavor.
Apart from exploring the Nilgiri tea growing region, here’s a look at why this tea has gained global acclamation.
The Nilgiri Tea Growing Region
Tamil Nadu, a state located in southern India is the home to the Nilgiri district. The Nilgiris, also known as the blue mountains belong to the Western Ghats running along the peninsula’s western coast. Apart from being popular for the beautiful flora and fauna found here, the region is famous for its incredible tea production.
The whole region is all about lush greens, cool climate, lovely rains, and consistent mist. All of these elements when combined with the high elevation, wherein some hills go up to 6000 feet, create the perfect environment for growing tea. The winter season is a lot more special for tea growth – when the temperature falls, the sap is concentrated in the tea leaves. This, in turn, results in a fruity, sweet flavor named as the Nilgiri character.
While the Nilgiri planters associated represent around 30% of the tea production in the region, the remaining production comes from farmers and small growers who own less than a hectare of land. Around half of the brew is exported, and several brands use it to make their tea bags because of its cost-friendly nature. and a strong fragrance.
Some of the famous tea estates in the growing region include:
- Tiger Hill
- Pascoes Woodlands
- Nonsuch Dunsandale
Speaking of popularity, Nilgiri tea is also known as the third cousin’ after Assam and Darjeeling. Tea lovers from around the world find the tea produced here to be the perfect combination of strength, color, and astringency.
History of the Nilgiri Tea Region
In 1799, after the Nilgiri region was ceded to the British East India Company, it was only then that Nilgiris became home to tea. Over the next twenty years, several Englishmen visited the place, but it was only in 1819 that the Commissioner of Coimbatore, John Sullivan came up from the plains. The wonderfully cool climate of the place made him put out a petition to the Madras government to request for the creation of a sanatorium here.
The Establishment of Major Tea Estates
Just for the sake of experimenting in the year 1835, a tea plantation farm in the region, Ketti witnessed the sowing of tea seeds for the first time. The first tea plantation estates were established at Thiashola and Dunsandle in 1959. Another tea plantation estate, Korakundah was established in 1930 at a higher elevation.
In fact, the Thiashola estate also grabbed the Organic Certification in the year 2003 for demonstrating altered and Advanced methods for tea cultivation, as well as for the continuous cultivation of tea.
The Chinese hand-rolling technique is followed in the gardens here to process tea leaves. One can observe a Scots connection in estates named Glendale, Glenburn, Glenvans, and Glenmorgan.
The Nilgiri tea in the West
These beautiful hills were selected for tea cultivation only in the 1800s. The expansion of the tea industry began in the 19th century after the arrival of a summer sanatorium for the British.
The tea estates of the region are mainly managed and administered by the Nilgiri Planters Association of South India. The aromatic characteristics of the Nilgiri produce appeal to people around the world, especially, the Western senses and taste buds.
What is Nilgiri Tea?
Nilgiri tea derives its name from the place of its production, Nilgiri which means Blue Mountain. As it comes with an intensely aromatic character, it’s also called the “fragrant one”. Even though this tea comes with loads of flavor, it’s still well-balanced and smooth. The tea grows throughout the year, but the best harvest time is when other teas are dormant or not apt for picking, i.e. November to March.
The tea features twisted leaves that look dark chestnut brown, growing in tea estates that rest at the base of the Blue Mountains. The fruity and strong black tea is all credits to the varying humidity, altitudes, and warmth of the region that let it grow throughout the year.
CTC Production Method
Small farmers own the majority of plantations operating in the Nilgiri district, and they follow the CTC method, i.e. crush, tear and curl for the production of Nilgiri tea. This method yields a lower quality tea, which makes a large part of the produce unfit for sale as loose leaf tea. That’s why most of the production is exported, further used in blends or tea bags.
Orthodox Production Methods
Apart from the CTC technique, the tea growers in the Nilgiri region also follow organic tea production and produce orthodox specialty teas in order to produce high-quality tea. Traditionally handcrafted teas include Orange Pekoe and are produced with high-quality full leaves collected from the top of the bush. A great example of a rare and extraordinary tea produced with these methods is Frost tea.
What Makes the Aroma and Flavor of Nilgiri Tea So Cherishing?
Everything, ranging from the production methods to the geographical conditions of the Nilgiri region is responsible for bringing out the awesomeness of this tea. While the crush, tear and curl technique is used for a major production, it is mostly used in tea bags to yield a wonderfully aromatic brew. The fanning and dust formed during the processing are employed in making iced tea mixes.
Tea plants here are grown at great heights, i.e. 1,000-2,500 meters above sea level, along with 60-90 inches of rainfall annually. Additionally, favorable amounts of strong sunlight make the tea so much more aromatic and intense. As a result, Nilgiri tea comes with lingering elements of tropical fruit and dusk flowers.
Tea Varieties from the Nilgiris
Mainly the Nilgiri region produces hand-sorted whole-leaf grade teas due to the subtropical climate. Featuring many whole leaves of one size, the orange pekoe is a medium-grade black tea, whereas pekoe is higher grade produce featuring young buds and leaves. CTC method teas and broken orange pekoe are some lower grade varieties made in Nilgiris. However, some of the most exceptional white, oolong and green teas are also produced in the region.
The different varieties of tea produced here are graded according to their leaf size. After processing, the leaves are sent to the broker warehouses in lined jute bags or foil-lined plywood chests, followed by reaching the Cochin port in order to be exported worldwide. The winter frost tea is a special variety of the Nilgiris, coming packed with wonderful tastes because of the frosty nights.
The Winter Frost Tea
The Nilgiri brew yields a dirty golden yellow tea when infused, featuring a balanced flavor with a slightly spicy aftertaste. Harvested in the winter months, the frost tea is also known as the Winter Flush Tea and is loved around the globe. It is planted during October and harvested between November and February. The fact that the weather conditions must be absolutely ideal for frost tea to grow makes it a very rare variety that’s produced in small amounts.
Health Benefits of Nilgiri Tea
The awesome aromatic tea also sports numerous health benefits. The most prominent ones are listed below.
1. Reduces Cholesterol Level
High cholesterol puts you at risk of heart problems and heart attack. Consuming Nilgiri tea twice daily can minimize the chances of heart diseases. The constituting flavonoids reduce LDL cholesterol levels, thereby helping the heart (1).
2. Helps Weight Loss
An amazing low-calorie drink, Nilgiri tea helps weight loss (2). The fact that it’s rich in antioxidants helps you burn fat by boosting up your metabolism, thereby helping you shed those extra pounds.
3. Treats Diabetes
Nilgiri tea contains polysaccharides which make it effective in slowing down the process of blood sugar absorption. Those who are fighting diabetes can benefit from consuming this tea regularly. In fact, it’s one of the most amazing herbal remedies to treat type 2 diabetes (3).
How to Make Nilgiri Tea at Home
To allow the tea leaves to open up and have ample of space to swirl and brew, choose a large teapot for brewing Nilgiri tea. Below are the steps of preparation :
- Pre-heat the cup and teapot by filling them with hot water, later discarding the water.
- Inside the teapot, add a teaspoon of loose leaf tea for each cup of water. Once the water reaches the boiling point, pour it into the teapot.
- Let the tea brew for 3-5 minutes. The longer the tea leaves brew, the stronger will be the flavor. So adjust the time accordingly. Pour the blend into the cups and have it sweetened or unsweetened.
Some people also add a slice of lemon to the tea for a tangy touch, while others add milk to it. The fact that it doesn’t cloud when iced, Nilgiri tea also yields wonderful iced tea.
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