Assam Tea and Darjeeling Tea are the most famous teas in India. Both teas get their names from the region they are grown in (Assam & Darjeeling respectively). They are considered to be of highest quality and are popular worldwide for their aroma and distinctive flavour.
Tea grown in the hilly regions of Assam was first cultivated by the Britishers upon learning the secrets of tea production from china. Assam and Darjeeling (in the state of West Bengal) are in the north eastern region of India and lie adjacent to each other. The climate conditions of both areas are similar but the difference in flavour is a result of the cultivation process.
The major difference between the two teas is the land in which the teas are cultivated. In Assam, the teas are cultivated on lowlands while in Darjeeling it is cultivated on highlands – on the foothills of the Himalayas. The tea bush is not native to Darjeeling and was introduced in the area only after China and Assam.
With short cool winters and hot and humid summers and plenty of rainfall, the climate in Assam is ideal for tea cultivation. Most of India’s tea production comes from this region. In 2014, Assam produced 610.97 million kgs of tea out of a total of 1.207 billion kgs produced in all of India.
The area in Darjeeling where tea is grown is much smaller in area as compared to that of Assam. The climate of Darjeeling is colder and harsher than Assam, slowing down the growth of tea. In 2014, only 8.51 million kgs of tea was produced.
Assam tea might have a much higher production rate, but its demand and popularity come nowhere close to Darjeeling tea in terms of quality, flavour and aroma.
Assam has two harvest seasons – the first harvest starts in March and is called the First Flush. First Flush teas often have a fragrant, fresh, flowery character. The infused tea is golden yellow in colour. The second harvest, is in May & June and is called the Second Flush. The second flush tea is referred to as the best quality Assam Tea – known as tippy tea because of the golden tips on the tea leaves. The tea has a spicy, malty character and when infused produces a rich coppery red to deep brown colour.
Darjeeling tea on the other hand have four harvest seasons – First Flush, Second Flush, Monsoon Flush and Autumn Flush. Though not all areas produce subsequent harvestable growth. The First Flush is in the months of March to April and are plucked while they are still tender new shoots on the stalks of the tea bushes called “buds”. The teas are delicate, floral with a pale infusion. The Second Flush is in the months of May and June, a well rounded, mature and fruity flavour of tea that is said to be less astringent. The Monsoon Flush is harvested in September after the heavy rainfalls in the region and is a stronger tea with a deep colour. The Autumn Flush, harvested in October & November are large leaves and produce a full-bodied, strong yet naturally fruity flavoured tea.
A lesser known third type of Indian tea comes from the Nilgiris or Blue Mountain. The Nilgiri tea grown in the south-western tip of India, the tea in this region is harvested around the year. The unique climatic conditions and stark topography of the area create the special environment which results in the Nilgiris producing a truly unique tea, fragrant with good body and a superlative flavour.
The other tea producing areas in India include Kangra, Conoor, Munnar, Dooars, and parts of Arunachal Pradesh, Himachal pradesh, Sikkim, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.