The tea industry in India has revolutionized to adapt to the growing economic demands of the country. The regional speciality has added to the fervour, like how the most recognized teas of Darjeeling and Assam are only cultivated in India. Of immaculate taste and flavour, some of the most popular types of tea that are grown and prepared in India are explored here today.
Tea-production in Assam is an indispensable source of livelihood since the state produces more than 500 million kilograms of tea per year. Made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, the black tea from Assam is cultivated in a warm, humid climate and at sea-level which contributes to its distinct malty flavour.
The leaves are harvested and withered, then are made to undergo an oxidising or fermentation process. It is called by other names as well, like English breakfast tea and Irish breakfast tea, thanks to its high amount of caffeine content. It boosts the body and mind with energy and alertness. Rich in antioxidants, it also promotes heart health as well as greater immunity.
The tea grown in the Nilgiri hills of Tamil Nadu, located in the southern portion of the Western Ghats, is intensely aromatic, with a mellow taste and subtle natural sweetness. Some of the best flavours of iced tea are made from Nilgiri tea-leaves. They have been produced for commercial purposes since the 1850s.
Nilgiri tea is grown in abundance year-round, such that the plants experience two monsoons each year. The amino acid L-theanine contained in the leaves relaxes the mind into stress-free alertness. The rich amount of flavonoids helps improve blood flow and strengthens the heart.
Grown in the Darjeeling hill region, between the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal, the tea from the Darjeeling and Kalimpong districts experiences the cool land air during the dry winter months, followed by the monsoon rains. The tea leaves are usually processed as black tea and are harvested by the famous process of plucking pairs of the plant’s top leaves along with the bud.
The harvesting season is divided into four flush periods starting from March to November. Rich in antioxidants, the Darjeeling tea provides several health benefits, including the elimination of toxin and enhanced digestion. With a caffeine content that varies depending on the flush, it also helps in regulating stress.
A beverage prepared by blending a plethora of spices, Masala Chai serves a cup full of nutrient and health benefits. The spices balance the caffeine of the black leaves, and thus, it is a safe source of energy upliftment. The spices, namely cinnamon and clove, help in strengthening the immunity, while ginger helps in improving blood circulation and relieving aches and pains.
Often, tulsi leaves are blended with elaichi in the preparation, which facilitates better digestion. The most prevalent method of simplistic preparation of masala chai is through decoction. A mixture of milk and water is actively boiled with the loose tea leaves, and the adequate amount of the spices and sweeteners is added. The tradition may vary according to the tastes or customs of the local region.
Noon Chai is also known by different names of shir chai, Kashmiri tea, pink tea or gulabi chai. It is believed to have originated in the Kashmir Valley of India. To prepare this beverage, green tea leaves are brewed in sodium bicarbonate or baking soda to obtain a thick, reddish-brown extract called ‘tueth’.
It is then followed by dilution with water, then milk and salt are added to it. In a traditional practice, the tea is served in a large samovar or a brass utensil which keeps it warm for a longer period. People love to drink hot noon chai particularly during winters, to attain warmth. It offers improved digestive and stress-reducing properties and also prevents heartburn and bloating because of the cardamom and baking soda content.
The large-leafed Camellia Sinensis Assamica plants grow in a warm, moist climate, especially in sub-tropical forests. To prepare green tea, the leaves of the plant are harvested and then heated as soon as possible through steaming or pan-frying. Unlike oolong tea and black tea, green tea does not undergo the process of withering and oxidation to prevent the leaves from turning brown and maintain their fresh flavour.
The colour of the brewed tea is usually green, yellow or light brown, but it depends on the processing and cultivation method used.
Some of the factors to be considered are the time of the year when it was plucked, how the plant was pruned, the kind of heat applied to the leaves to stop oxidation, and the way the leaves were shaped, rolled or dried. The flavour of a correctly brewed cup of green tea can range from toasted vegetal to sweet, seaweed-like, and is affected by the “terroir” or the environment in which it was grown. It is best to consume Green tea within six months or a year of purchase so that its flavour and benefits can be savoured adequately. Loaded with antioxidants, it provides many health benefits like improved brain function, well-maintained weight, protection against cancer and lower risk of heart diseases.
A beverage of the Himalayan people of India, butter tea is also known as po cha and cha süma. In the climate of the mountains where the air is cold and thin, the traditional preparation of butter tea gives the people energy and calories. Traditionally, it is made from butter derived from the milk of yak. Producers heat the milk then place it in a solar-powered device that separates the butter. The tea leaves are boiled in water for several hours until a dark brown colour is achieved, then it is poured into a container with fresh yak butter and salt. The resultant mixture is a thick liquid that is stored into tea-pots or jars, ready to be served.
Butter tea is also used for eating tsampa, which is a high caloric paste, also including other components like highland barley paste and curds. In Tibetan medicine, it is considered that the combination of butter and tea gives greater balance in mind and body than either item individually. The consumption of butter tea enhances the body’s blood flow and muscle and bone strength essential to cope with the stress of work and farming activities at high altitudes. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, and thus provides further energy.
Tea is an indispensable beverage for the average individual of India. It is a household refreshment for breakfast as well as the standard serving for an official meeting. It provides for physical health benefits as well as soothes the mind from overwhelming stress.