Indian Teas: Story of two leaves and a bud
We hope this journey through the rich culture of the Indian Subcontinent was delightful so far. In this edition, we invite you on an interesting journey of ‘Indian Tea and the places worth a visit to get indulged in the Tea experience' as part of our NE Indian adventure.
Tea or Chai as it is called in India has become a part of Indian culture over time. Chai is a drink which is always cherished by the people in India irrespective of the time of the day or occasion. It is simply relished and serves as a perfect welcome drink for the guests.
The existence of tea in India is believed to be historic wherein tribes in Assam used the tea leaves for medicinal purposes and as an ingredient in the food. However, it became known as a recreational drink with the initiative by the Britishers in the 1800s, as they were among the largest consumers of tea during those days. The possibility of growing tea in Assam (assamica seeds) lit the hopes of meeting their tea consumption needs and breaking China's monopoly, which was the largest tea producer at that time. They tried the seeds from Assam to cultivate Tea in Darjeeling that served as one of their favourite hill stations to get some respite from the heat of the plains while they were ruling from Kolkata. But the experiment failed mainly due to the different climatic conditions in both the regions that made way for the seeds brought from China (Camellia sinensis). It worked and soon Darjeeling became famous as one of the finest quality tea producers surpassing China. The success inspired the Britishers to explore more regions in India to increase the tea plantation cover.
Do you know: Assam along with Southern China is the only region in the world where the tea is still grown with the native tea plants?
With time, Tea became an integral part of the Indian culture and today it is one of the most common beverages consumed in the country. In fact, India today is among the largest tea producers in the world. This invited a lot of explorers to come and explore these locales and get indulged in the experience called “Tea Tourism”. This form of Tourism is also most favoured among the discerning travellers because of the visual treat it gives along with green surroundings amidst nature. Some of these erstwhile Tea estates have been converted into beautiful hotels thus offering accommodation in the middle of tea plantations that is just an out of the world experience. Activities like walking or hiking through these Tea plantations, possibility of getting indulged in the tea plucking takes you closer to nature surrounding the area, where the chirping of birds, cool breeze, streams, and breath-taking views will leave you amazed. The experience is magnified with a possibility to include visit to a tea factory and see how different teas are processed and produced from the same plant. Tea tasting sessions will tell you how different flavours can be achieved. Surroundings of some tea estates or gardens also provide an opportunity to indulge in activities like rafting, camping or golfing.
With time, many tea plantations came into existence. However, Darjeeling and Assam Tea gardens produce the country's best quality of tea. Let us introduce you to these tea destinations:
DARJEELING, WEST BENGAL
Darjeeling tea is the most sought after amongst all the teas found in India because of its quality. Its unique flavour and aroma is attributed to its higher altitude. The teas produced here are believed to be grown at the highest elevation in the world. While the use of machines, modern fertilizers, and pesticides helps in rapid production, it also leads to problems in the hilly region like slope instability, soil erosion, and depletion.
The teas produced here are believed to be grown at the highest elevation in the world. While the use of machines, modern fertilizers, and pesticides helps in rapid production, it also leads to problems in the hilly region like slope instability, soil erosion, and depletion. For these reasons, Darjeeling still follows the old traditional methods. Orthodoxly, over here the Tea is still produced and cultivated with hands completely. While this prevents them from quantity, but it helps achieve quality tea in the world.
Darjeeling teas get three to four flushes (harvest) in a year between mid March and November at defined intervals. Each of the flushes gives a different form of teas like black, oolong, green, and white. It is because of its uniqueness and quality; it is termed as 'Champagne of teas' as well. The tea harvested in the first flush is considered to be best quality over the harvest of the following flushes.
While in Darjeeling, there is an option to stay in a tea estate and explore, as well as there are many estates that allow visitors to have a first-hand experience about Tea, without a need to stay in them. There is also possibility of going on short hikes or treks through the tea plantations and hilly terrains along with picnic lunches beside the streams and explore the beautiful small habitation around it. A joy ride on the narrow-gauge heritage train - Darjeeling Himalayan Railway, a part of the UNESCO listed Mountain Railways of India is another way to admire the natural beauty around Darjeeling.
FUN FACT: You might have heard about four different colours of Tea (Black, Oolong, white and Green). But do you know that all these four are a produce of the same plant. It is just the way of their processing which brings distinction in their colour, aroma and flavour.
Popular as a breakfast tea, Assam tea is well-known for its malty taste. While green teas and white teas are also produced here, it is famous for the black tea produced in higher quantities. Having an advantage of lowlands, it is one of the world's largest tea-growing regions. The leaves of Assam tea are almost double the size of Darjeeling tea. A unique system that is still followed in Assam tea gardens is its work time. Considering the early sunrise in this region, the British formed a system wherein they set the local time one hour ahead of IST (Indian Standard Time) and called it “Tea Garden Time” or Bagan time. Unlike Darjeeling tea, Assam Tea is harvested in two flushes only, between March and November. Another characteristic of Assam tea is that the final flush gives the superior quality tea here.
In contrast to it, Darjeeling tea received in the first flush is considered superior. Assam tea is believed to boost energy and mental alertness. Some studies also link Assam tea's consumption to reduce cancer risks.
Jorhat is not only famous for the world's oldest and largest tea research center- Tocklai Experimental Station (that later became Tocklai Tea Research Association), but it is also well known for the country's only wildlife sanctuary to spot the Hoolock Gibbons - Hoollongapar Wildlife Sanctuary. It can also be combined with a visit to the tribal villages around it to know about their culture, and surprisingly, some of them are still practicing traditional methods of making tea. Another major attraction of the town is the Annual Tea Festival, which is celebrated between November and January and attracts visitors from all over the world.
FUN FACT: Today, Tea is like a part of every home’s routine in India but do you know it was not accepted by the locals in India, initially? It was only after many years of promotion, they got used to it.
Come and explore these beautiful tea gardens surrounded by adventure, nature, and divine flavours. At ISE Travel, the itinerary is not just a travel route or a trip. We design, conceptualise and handcraft every journey for you. Our special customised itineraries and curated experiences in different destinations are what make for those memorable travel moments.