Teas are grown in an ever-increasing number of countries in the world, with India still being one of the leaders. This stop on our virtual world tea tour is Nilgiri District in a more southern part of that country.
A mountainous region of Tamil Nadu State in southeastern India, with peaks rising from the surrounding plains to elevations between 5,000 and 8,500 feet. The Noyar River provides moisture, and the area is considerably cooler and wetter than the plains since the rainfall measures between 100 and 600 centimeters annually. Lush vegetation and abundant wildlife, including elephants, are other features.
Nilgiri teas are grown all year round with the best teas being produced during January and August. There are three flushes (times of growth and harvest): 1st is picked April thru May, accounting for about 25% of the region’s total harvest; 2nd is picked September to November, about 40-45% of the total harvest; and 3rd is December to January.
The first tea was planted in 1835 as an experiment, with the first commercial operation going strong in 1859, about 24 years later, a good timeframe for maturing the plants and working out any issues. Larger tea gardens, some with an area of 400 hectares or more, are located at about 5,100 to 6,900 feet elevations and yield from 64,000 to 120,000 tons annually, making it second only to Assam District in India for tea production.
Most Nilgiri tea estates are small- and medium-sized (averaging 100 to 200 hectares), though, and owned by small businesses or families. Most of these have been around since colonial times. Smallholders abound, and they sell their green leaf to neighboring factories for processing into black tea. A rapid increase in tea prices has made tea more profitable than other crops such as vegetables.
Grading and Quality
Nilgiri produces CTC teas used for blending and some very high quality teas. The Orange Pekoe grading system is used (OP for Orange Pekoe, BOP for Broken Orange Pekoe, FOP for Flowery Broken Orange Pekoe, etc.).
Also, teas are graded by elevation:
- “High grown” — the most flavorful
- “Mid-grown” — medium quality
- “Low grown” — generally used as bases for blends
- Nonsuch Tea Estate — produces one of the best Nilgiri district teas in league with Tiger Hill and Glendale.
- Kodanad Estate
- Lockhart Tea Estate
- Highfield Tea Factory
- Vigneshwar Estate Tea Factory
- Hittakkal Estate Tea Factory
- Ripon Tea Estate
- Mayfield Tea Estate
- Goomankhan Tea Estate
- Glendale Tea Estate — one of the premiere tea estates of the Nilgiri district; a large tea estate (1,181 acres of which 900 are under tea cultivation). Mainly grows clonal teas, producing high quality.
- Parkside Tea Estate
Some of the Better-Known Nilgiri Teas
While the tea is generally marketed for local consumption, some of the larger tea gardens export to various countries, so the tea is gaining a
reputation abroad, especially due to its quality, mellow and non-astringent flavor, sweetness, and smoother character. Not quite the rich body of an Assam and not quite the crispness of a Darjeeling. A nicely balanced, flavorful cup with a hint of earthiness.
- Nonsuch Estate tea — A black tea with a fruity almost floral-like maltiness. Stronger flavor suitable for breakfast time.
- Glendale Tea — A medium strength tea noted for its superb flavor with hints of jammy character, a quality only available in January when the average price is generally between 2 to 3 times the price at other times of the year.
- Glendale Estate Frost Tea, SFTGFOP — A tea that has gone through a slight freezing, giving it a pronounced aroma and flavor. Very fruity, sweet, smooth, and balanced. These qualities make it one of the most sought after teas in the world today.
- Chamraj Estate, FOP — A great smooth, medium-bodied tea with a wonderful woodsy sweetness. Makes a nice breakfast tea, but is also delicious at the afternoon tea break, and perfect for after dinner.
Don’t miss our next stop on this virtual world tea tour!
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