Nilgiri tea, a black tea from the Nilgiri district in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, India, is a hidden gem among the many black teas available. Despite being overshadowed by more well-known regions such as Darjeeling and Ceylon, Nilgiri tea has a unique subtropical climate and high altitude that produces a flavorful and less astringent black tea. In this article, we will explore the history and production of Nilgiri tea, as well as its distinctive taste and brewing techniques.
History of Nilgiri Tea
Nilgiri tea is grown in the Nilgiri district, also known as the blue mountains, which is part of the Western Ghats mountain range. This area spans more than 140,000 square kilometers, crossing several states in southern India. Tea production began in the Nilgiri region during the rule of the British East India Company in 1835. Classic British tea estates and tea plantations were established throughout the district, with the highest Nilgiri tea plantations located in Korakundah. Today, small local growers, mainly the Badagas community of agriculturists, produce the majority of Nilgiri tea. Larger tea plantations that are part of the Nilgiri Planters’ Association produce about 30 percent of this type of tea. The region also produces white tea, green tea, and oolong tea.
Unique Flavor Profile of Nilgiri Tea
Nilgiri tea is similar to Assam tea and Darjeeling tea, but it has a more balanced flavor profile with bold fruity and floral notes. These flavors are reminiscent of dusk orchid and woody plums, and they are present in a mild body. Unlike many other black teas, Nilgiri tea does not have strong notes of astringency and brews into a bright amber hue. The tea has a nutty and spicy aftertaste that is smooth and enjoyable.
Production Process of Nilgiri Tea
Nilgiri tea is made from the leaves of the true tea plant known as Camellia sinensis. The tea is harvested between January and March, and early-harvest teas are known as Frost Tea. These teas have a rosy, sweet flavor and are harvested early in the morning after a light frost. Once the leaves are plucked, they undergo an oxidation process using the Orthodox Method. This process is usually undertaken by hand to preserve the entire tea leaf. The leaves turn a dark brown or black hue and produce an intense, flavorful aroma. Once dry, the tea leaves are gently rolled and shaped for sale as loose leaf teas. Nilgiri tea is available as orange pekoe, which is a medium grade tea, or pekoe black, which is a premium grade fine tea made with only the youngest buds and tea leaves. Lower quality Nilgiri teas are produced using the CTC (crush, tear, and curl) Method and are typically found in tea bags.
Brewing Nilgiri Tea
Brewing Nilgiri tea is easy and straightforward. The tea can be enjoyed hot or cold and is popularly used in chai recipes because of its balanced flavor profile. To make hot tea, heat water to between 203 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit and add one teaspoon of Nilgiri organic black tea leaves for every eight ounces of water to a tea strainer. Pour the hot water into a teacup and place the tea strainer inside. Steep the tea for 3 to 5 minutes, depending on desired strength. Remove the tea infuser and sweeten with sugar or honey as desired.