India grows the most tea of any nation in the world with over 14,000 tea estates adorning the country. From the shady Himalayan foothills where darjeeling can be found to the assam’s heavily forested home. The year was 1598 when a Dutch explorer wrote in his journal about local Indians who brewed and ate Assam leaves. At the time China had been holding a monopoly on tea production for thousands of years. It was known for its exquisite native tea leaves, but in the 1800s China lost its monopoly due to rapidly increasing global trade of tea and internal drug problems. In 1833 the British East India Company, responsible for China tea trading, set out to trade tea with India instead. Like China, tea making had been a hallmark within the country for thousands of years. It was a primary component of their medicine system and daily consumption. Today the tea industry is still a hallmark of India culture and regularly employs thousands of people.
Perhaps among the most well-known tea is Darjeeling (Champagne of Tea), with its floral scent and light substance, became very popular with the United Kingdom and other territories belonging to the British empire. All teas come from one plant called Camellia sinensis and the processing determines what kind of tea it will become. White tea, green tea, oolong, Assam, niligiri, and Darjeeling are all black teas made from this plant. The Darjeeling tea now has a worldwide reputation though it is only grown in India especially on the Darjeeling estate. Some of the teas only use the stems and twigs instead of the leaves but others just use the leaf or a combination. Nilgiri is another popular India tea that comes from some of the highest elevations of southern India. And nilgiri tea plantations cover much of the region with a year-around tropical climate making it very productive. The tea generally has a smooth, dark, and aromatic flavor that is very versatile, ideal for being mixed with other teas.
Another popular Indian black tea is Assam with its malty and robust flavor that makes a good breakfast tea. A hybrid of wild Assam and Chinese tea plants it grows in the tropical Assam region of India, which is the largest area in the world devoted to tea growing. During the monsoon season this tea variety is at its peak sweet flavor. It’s also the most abundant variety of black tea during that time. The plant Camellia sinensis of which the Assam is produced from grows in rich sandy soils. These nutrient-dense soils combined with a humid season are ideal for the cultivation of Assam. It is picked sometime in March and then later when its at peak sweetness its picked again.
Of course, there are many more black tea varieties of India than are written about here, but the above is the three major ones. Black tea can come in many strong and aromatic flavors all with their own unique growing conditions. Each one is a part of Indian culture and history. Black tea can also be very difficult to brew due to its finicky nature towards water temperature. Though its the most convenient tea to store due a long shelf life. If the water is too hot the flavor may turn out too bitter. On the other hand if the water is too cold the active substances in the tea won’t develop. Much like the diverse landscape of India from the rugged Himalaya mountains to the tropical lands of Assam its teas are all different.