In November 2006, the first ever tea auction held in Las Vegas proved to be extra special for India. India has quite a few tea-producing regions, and it is generally tea from Darjeeling and Assam that gets all the attention. However, here the Indian Nilgiri Tea achieved ‘Top Honors’ at this auction, fetching a record price of $600 per kg! It wasn’t just any tea. It was a machine-sorted, lower-cost, semi-full leaf variety of a highly quality tea called as the Broken Orange Pekoe or BOP. That’s quite a milestone for Indian tea.
In 1799, the Nilgiri region became a part of the British East India Company after Tipu Sultan lost the 4th Anglo-Indian war. This is when tea was introduced to the region. Tea cultivation began here in the 1800s. In the 19th century a sanatorium was built here on the petition of Commissioner of Coimbatore – John Sullivan as he really liked the climate and terrain of the place. This promoted tea cultivation and consumption in the region.
Nilgiri Tea is characteristically a dark, intensely aromatic, fragrant and flavored tea that is grown in the southern part of Western Ghats in India, in the Nilgiri Hills of Tamil Nadu. Only about 30% of the tea grown in the Nilgiris comes from large plantations. Majority of the tea in Nilgiris is produced by small farmers who generally own less than a hectare of land. These small tea growers generally belong to a local community of agriculturalists called Badagas. More than 50% of Nilgiri tea is exported, and the tea is commonly used in blends for tea bags.
I love orange pekoe tea. The Pekoe cut black tea is also quite a preferred tea for me. I used to think they must some Chinese teas earlier. And then, to my utter surprise, I discover, they are desi Indian teas! Orange pekoe is a popular basic medium grade black tea made from whole tea leaves at a certain maturity stage. Pekoe tea is a more delicate version with young tea leaves and buds. And these teas are produced in Nilgiri mountains! The Nilgiri mountains produce distinctive green, black and oolong teas that have a great fragrance and flavor.
Have you heard of the Winter Frost tea? This tea is harvested in winters, when the night frost acting as a stress factor for the tea plants. As a defense against the frost, the tea plant produces complex compounds which adds unique layers to the flavor of the tea.
However, most of Nilgiri teas become a part of blends, as I mentioned before. A lot of Nilgiri tea goes through the standard CTC processing. Most Nilgiri tea, especially the pekoe and orange pekoe is best served without milk. Though the CTC processed ones can be had milk.
Nilgiri tea is dark and intense. This is what makes it special. Nilgiri teas have notes of dusk flowers and tropical fruits. The strong flavors of Nilgiri tea is the prime reason they are best for mixing with other teas and making different blends, as the flavors and aromas can be balanced out. Most importantly, Nilgiri teas are low in astringency, much lesser than the Assam and Darjeeling teas which are far more astringent. Also, Nilgiri tea does not cloud up when cold, and will have a striking distinctive golden yellow color.
Have you ever tried Nilgiri tea? Which tea do you prefer? Let me know your thoughts!