Most people, when they consider the origin of their tea, think of China first. And while China is the largest producer of tea in the world, India is the second most prolific.
The history of Indian tea dates back as far as 750 BCE. It’s been used in Buddhist monasteries and Ayurvedic practice. What kinds of Indian teas are available today? Here are the teas India is most well known for.
Masala chai isn’t so much a tea as it is a spiced drink. The drink is typically made by brewing black tea, then infusing the tea with a variety of spices.
Spices used in Masala chai include cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, ground ginger and cloves. Traditionally, the ingredients are added fresh. However, today you can purchase chai blends pre-made, in ready to use tea bags.
Assam tea is named after the region where it’s primarily grown. It’s a black tea, and is known for its heady, strong flavor. The Assam region of India is prone to monsoons. That gives it a tropical climate, which is responsible for the flavor of the tea grown for.
True Assam tea is made from the Camellia sinensis plant, but the variety, assamica, is a little different from other teas. The Assam region knows its tea; there are almost 800 tea estates and over 100,000 smaller tea gardens in the area.
Darjeeling teas are processed as white, black and green. But they’re all made from the same plant, Camellia sinesis. Like Assam tea, it’s region-specific. Darjeeling teas are only grown in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal.
Darjeeling tea tastes musky, or even a bit like wine. The teas are meant to be thin-bodied. Brewing them too long can make the drink taste bitter. They serve the finest Darjeeling teas at the best afternoon locations nationwide, so be sure to check them out for yourself whether you’re in Northumberland or Kent.
Nilgiri tea is grown in a jungle climate, and are much more full bodied than Darjeeling. They taste stronger and more smooth than other Indian teas and are often blended with other flavors.
Nilgiri teas come from the Blue Mountains of India, and unique to this region is the process of picking tea leaves in the winter. Called “frost tea,” these chilled leaves create a tea with a very concentrated, floral taste.
Kahwah isn’t unique to India, but it’s a popular tea drink served in the northern regions. Like chai, it’s not just a tea but a tea blend.
Kahwah is made by boiling green tea leaves with cinnamon, cardamom and saffron. In India sometimes roses are added. You’ll find Kahwah served at breakfast in India, but also in Afghanistan, Pakistan and in some parts of central Asia.
In the Himalayas, you’ll need a lot of calories to survive the high altitudes and the cold. So a drink is prepared called butter tea, or gur gur. This drink is made from tea, butter, water and salt.
Over time, the recipe for butter tea spread south to India. Tea leaves are boiled for half a day, then skimmed and poured into yak butter and salt. The result is a thick liquid which more resembles a soup than a tea.