Everything is an outcome of conditioning – from human beings to trees. We are what we have been subjected to – people, places and conversations. And not surprisingly, this claim holds true for tea as well.
Think about it. When we talk about, lets say, the quintessential Darjeeling Tea or the bodacious Assam tea, note how we acknowledge these teas in relation to the regions that they came from. And that’s an association to take a careful note of. More so, because Indian teas are typically recognized, first, by the land of their origin and then the variety.
This is largely because there exists a staunch belief that the land from which a tea is grown imparts a unique quality that is specific to that growing site. Its pretty much like wine – every vineyard produces cabernet sauvignon, but there is a difference between a Burgundy-brewed cabernet sauvignon and a Bordeaux-brewed cabernet sauvignon.
A tea is conditioned by the air that surrounds it, the soil that nurtures it, and the hands that pluck and process it. So it is not be over-reaching to proclaim that an appreciation of tea is inadvertently an appreciation of the land where it came from. When you talk about the taste of a certain tea, its ethereal aroma, or that lingering flavor that seemingly occupies the whole of your mood, you are somewhere admiring that tea estate’s terroir for all the goodness it has infused into the crop.
Lets explore this a little bit further as I tell you, and very briefly too, how a tea growing region contributes towards building those classic characteristics we have come to associate with various Indian teas. This post is an ode to the terroirs of Indian tea estates.
1. Bodacious teas from Assam
This region is best known for its rich Black Tea, grown in the lowlands of the nutrient-rich Brahmaputra river valley. Enjoying heavy rainfall and a humid weather for most of the year, Assam’s tropical weather conditions lend themselves towards cultivating large-leafed, brisk, malty, bright-colored teas. This quality makes Assam tea an ideal breakfast tea that can be enjoyed with milk or cream.
2. Delicate teas from Darjeeling
Notably enjoying a cool climate all year long, the small-leafed teas from the highlands of Darjeeling are typically characterized as having light color, thin-body and an evident astringency – hence dubbed as Champagne of Teas. The air in this Himalayan footland is richly ozonated and the process of tea cultivation still remains largely orthodox, ensuring the delicate leaves are carefully picked, gradually air-withered and gently twist-shaped. In fact, Nepals tea growing regions boast similar land conditions, but the taste profiles of both the teas vary quite noticeably – all thanks to difference in the conditioning they receive.
3. Aromatic teas from Nilgiri
The Blue Mountain range from the southern end of the Indian subcontinent is well known for producing the highly sought-after Orange Pekoe variety. But thats not all one can accredit to the Nilgiris. This quaint little haven from southern India – thanks to a lush tropical climate – is well known for producing dark, unabashedly aromatic and flavor rich teas that lend themselves best for producing the Orange Pekoe variety and CTC. Still grown in a traditional way by a handful of local agriculturists, Nilgiri Teas are cultivated around a rich floral habitat, lending it those classic fragrant notes.
4. Exclusive Sino-Indian teas from Kangra
Often pegged along side Darjeeling tea, what is distinct about teas from Kangra region is that they are notably less astringent compared to their infamous counterpart. Also, it is the only tea region in India that grows Chinese or Indo-chinese hybrid tea bushes. The classic characteristics of Kangra tea emerge from the fact that they are farmed in an all-organic region of Northwestern India and in very traditional ways too. This is what makes Kangra tea notably grassy, mellow and subtly sweet.
In a way, drinking a cup of tea is like taking a 5 minute tour of the land where it grew and took form. Isn’t that a refreshing way to look at tea!
Talking about refreshing, check out Fresh Beginnings to continue discovering the world of some amazing Indian teas.