The Nilgiris in the South is known for eucalyptus trees and tea plantations. Known for their unique aromas and flavours, some of the best quality tea is grown here. During our recent trip to the blue mountains, we explored the tea estates in the region and found what makes Nilgiri tea a good choice.
Suresh Kumar, manager, Chamraj Tea, Ooty, who walked us through the many questions we had about the ‘golden’ cup of tea, says that for tea connoisseurs, Ooty has a lot to offer in terms of variety and flavour. “The region has dust, leaf, black, green and white varieties of tea and the flavours include masala, cardamom, mint, frost ice and even chocolate,” he informs.
Ask him how tea plantations developed in this high altitude region and he says that when the British were colonising territories down South, they came across the land of Ooty. “And as legend has it, they found the climate in Ooty very English, unlike the hotter places in the surrounding regions. Slowly, the British started expanding their presence in the region and one fine day an English gentleman set out to seek land for cultivating tea and ordered a few tea seeds from China. However, by the time the seeds reached him, he had passed away. So the then government thought that they would anyway cultivate it to see if it gave a good produce. Initially, they failed but after a few years the fresh and healthy batch was cultivated. Since then there was no looking back. Along with carrots, potatoes and exotic spices, the locals here started growing tea, giving birth to the famous Nilgiri tea,” explains Kumar.
So what makes Nilgiri tea different from others? Kumar mentions that the blue mountain range is one of the few regions in the world where tea is grown at an elevation of 8,000 feet above sea-level. “The tea is closer to heaven than other tea plantations that gives it a heavenly taste,” he jokes, but later explains that the air is less polluted in higher altitude places plus the cooler temperatures make it ideal to grow tea.
“In Ooty, one will find that the leaves are slightly on the fuller side and are longer than its Assam counterpart. This happens mainly because of the elevation difference,” he says adding that the climatic condition here slows down the growth of tea plants which allows the flavours in the tea leaves to intensify and turn aromatic. So while Assam tea has full-bodied colour, Nilgiri tea has an aromatic body with a light golden colour.
The tea of this region has a fruity mellow flavour to it and is often light. Kumar says that people here traditionally do not add milk to the tea because of which one can taste the actual flavour of the rich leaves. He also adds that most people make tea the wrong way. He suggests that one must never boil tea leaves or powder for long because it does not enhance the flavour but rather makes it bitter killing the goodness of the tea.
Those visiting Ooty, must try their Frost Ice tea, White Tea, Flavoured Iced Teas (which he says is better than any other iced tea that you’ve had), Chocolate Tea and even the Masala Chai with milk. “Once you taste it, you will actually know why Nilgiri tea is famous,” he says.
While coffee is considered to be the preferred drink of the millennials because of the big and fancy joints that have popped up across the globe and offer a wide range of coffee, tea still enjoys a cult status.
“However, the scenario is changing. Now when we look at the market and consider the millennial demographic, they have a different taste and choice. The only way to be with them and cater to their needs is by understanding what they like and what they don’t,” says Kumar, further pointing out that when it comes to tea, millennials in particular like to experiment.
“Even though Masala Chai is the ‘king of teas’, we are now trying to include different flavours like mint, jasmine, chocolate in teas. A few places also serve alcohol infused teas,” he informs.