The Nilgiri tea region doesn't get the credit it deserves. Often overshadowed by other black tea regions such as Darjeeling and Ceylon, this region has a unique subtropical climate and high altitude that produces a bold black tea with fruity and floral notes and less astringency than other black teas. Learn more about Nilgiri tea including the history of the tea region, how it's produced, and how to brew it right here.
Nilgiri tea is an Indian black tea that is similar to Assam tea and Darjeeling tea. The tea has bold fruity and floral flavors — with hints of dusk orchid and woody plums — that are balanced in a mild body. This black tea does not have strong notes of astringency and it brews into a bright amber hue. The tea has an aftertaste that is nutty and spicy.
Nilgiri tea is cultivated in the Nilgiri district of India, which can be found in the state of Tamil Nadu. Also known as the blue mountains, the Nilgiri Mountains belong to the Western Ghats mountain range which spans more than 140,000 square kilometers crossing Kerala, Karnataka, Goa, and Gujarat in south India. The mountain range parallels the western coast of southern India. The Nilgiri Mountains feature more than 24 peaks towering 2,000 meters above sea level.
The rich natural area is home to dozens of unique flora and fauna, which has made the Nilgiri District a popular travel destination. The climate and soil composition also make it one of the best tea growing regions on the planet. While lesser known than other Indian tea producing regions such as Darjeeling and Assam, the Nilgiri tea region still produces some of the highest quality black teas.
Tea production began in the Nilgiri region during the rule of the British East India Company around 1835. Classic British tea estates and tea plantations popped up around the district from Ketti to Dunsandle and Thiashola. The highest Nilgiri tea plantations are located in Korakundah. The aromatic fragrance and strong fruity flavors were an instant hit with Westerners.
Today, small local growers — mainly a local community of agriculturists known as Badagas — produce the vast majority of Nilgiri tea. Larger tea plantations that are part of the Nilgiri Planters' Association, which is headquartered in Coonoor, produce about 30 percent of this type of tea. In addition, the region produces a wide range of white tea, green tea, and oolong tea.
Nilgiri tea is made from the leaves of the true tea plant known as Camellia sinensis. This Indian black tea is typically harvested between January and March. Teas harvested early in the season are known as Frost Tea and feature a rosy, sweet flavor. These teas are typically harvested early in the morning after a light frost and come from tea plantations higher in the mountains.
Once the leaves are plucked, they undergo an oxidation process using the Orthodox Method where enzymes in the leaves are exposed to oxygen. This process is usually undertaken by hand to preserve the entire tea leaf. This causes the leaves to turn a dark brown or black hue and produces an intense, flavorful aroma.
Once dry, the tea leaves are gently rolled and shaped for sale as loose leaf teas. These types of Nilgiri tea are known as orange pekoe — a medium grade tea, or pekoe black — a premium grade fine tea made with only the youngest buds and tea leaves.
There are also lower quality Nilgiri teas that typically end up in the form of tea bags. These teas are generally produced using the CTC (crush, tear, and curl) Method. This method involves the use of machinery to bruise and break the leaves into smaller fragments.
If you love black tea, you have to try Nilgiri tea. Its vibrant aroma and uniquely balanced flavor profile make it one of the best tea tasting experiences in the black tea world. It boasts extensive health benefits and a powerful flavor that will make this Indian tea a staple in your cabinets.
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