While the Darjeeling and Assam regions in India enjoy a great deal of recognition and prestige for their tea cultivating prowess, there is a third region within India that produces tea of equal quality yet is far less known to the common tea drinker: The Blue Maintains of Nilgiri.
The beautiful rolling hills of Nilgiri are situated in the Tamil Nadu area of Southern India and is part of the greater Western Ghats Mountain range. Tea was first brought to the area in 1835 by British colonists and tea has been cultivated commercially from the 1850s onwards. Initially the plantations that sprouted up and expanded into the international tea market were largely run by European planters. However, after Indian independence was declared in 1947 the tea production was sold to Indian owners and with the help of the Tea Act of 1853 became part of the jurisdiction of the Tea Board of India.
The subtropical climate and rich soil found in the Nilgiri region makes it particularly suited for the production of tea. The growing area ranges between 1,000 and 2,500 meters in elevation and enjoys two monsoon periods each year (similar to the production of Ceylon tea in Sri Lanka), one from June to September and another from October to November. As a result of its cold yet sunny and foggy climate, and its flushed mountain slopes, tea production can continue in Nilgiri all year round. Although a number of larger tea estates still exist in the region, the majority of tea produced in Nilgiri today is done so by small local growers. The planters primarily employ the crush, tear curl (CTC) method of producing tea, which leads to lower quality of tea. As a result more than half of the tea production in Nilgiri has been for use in tea bags or blends. It’s more affordable nature has resulted in great export, particularly into the Russian market.
Although some plantations have expanded their range, these days the Nilgiri region is most known for producing rich, bright, fruity and aromatic black teas, often described as falling somewhere between Assam and Darjeeling. Additionally, because of its brightness Nilgiri tea is particularly suited for use in iced tea, leading global companies like Nestea to use it in their products.