Types of Tea
Four main Tea varieties are produced based on how tea leaves are processed:
- Green tea (non-fermented)
- Black tea (fermented)
- Oolong tea (partly fermented)
- White tea (least processing)
As per the provision of the Tea Act, 1953, tea means the plant Camellia Sinensis (L) O. Kuntze and all Tea varieties known commercially as tea made from the leaves of this plant.
All four Tea varieties – i.e. green tea, black tea, oolong tea, and white tea – are made from the same tea plant, Camellia Sinensis (L) O. Kuntze. How the drink ends up depends on how it is processed2 after being picked.
White tea undergoes the least processing, followed by green tea (non-fermented) and oolong tea (partly fermented). Black tea (fermented) is made to go through an oxidation process, to which it owes a distinctive flavor.
Withering tea leaves make green tea – and then steaming, rolling, and drying them. It undergoes minimal processing and contains 80-90% catechins and flavonols (10% of total flavonoids). The infused leaf is green, and the liquor is mild, pale green, or lemon-yellow.
Black tea involves additional processing (i.e. aeration and withering). As a result, it has different levels of catechin (20–30%) and flavonoid content (theaflavins and thearubigins represent 10% and 50–60% of total flavonoids respectively) than other tea varieties.
Black tea is by far the most common of the Tea varieties produced. The infused leaf has a dark brown color and a sweet aroma.
Oolong tea is partially or semi-fermented tea. A full-bodied tea with a fragrant flavor and sweet fruity aroma, it has some qualities of both black tea and green tea due to its manufacturing process. It is more suitable for people who prefer a low caffeine option.
Tea connoisseurs appreciate white tea for its unmatched subtlety, complexity, and natural sweetness. It is also considered to be a far more excellent source of antioxidants than green tea and other Tea varieties because the tea leaves undergo minimal processing.
- All four Tea varieties contain different types of polyphenolic compounds with antioxidant properties. So all four Tea varieties are good for health. However, due to a difference in their nutrient content, they offer different health benefits.
According to the Tea Board of India, tea quality broadly refers to all the characteristics of tea by which its market value is judged. It is the total of internal and external factors like aroma/flavor, strength, color, briskness, and character of the infused leaf.
Tea quality not only varies from one garden to another, but also between the same Tea varieties manufactured at different times within a particular garden.
Aside from processing, the quality of tea can be affected by genetic, environmental, and cultural factors, i.e.:
- Genetic properties of the tea plant and tea bush
- Soil and climate conditions, including temperature, humidity, sunshine duration, rainfall, etc.
- Field operations such as pruning, fertilizing, shading, plucking round, and plucking standards.
Tea Producing Regions of India
Following the success of tea cultivation experiments in Darjeeling and Assam in the 1800s, endeavors in other parts of India with similar natural conditions were undertaken. These efforts led to thriving tea industry in at least ten distinct tea producing regions of North-East and South India:
- Dooars and Terai
Tea Varieties in India
Darjeeling has been growing the Chinese variety of the tea plant since 1841. But unlike other regions that grow this variety, the environment of Darjeeling has a unique and magical effect on the tea bush. Part of this magic can be explained by science, and part of it remains an endearing mystery.
Darjeeling tea is sold at very high premiums in the international market due to its Muscatel flavor (or a musky spiciness). This flavor cannot be replicated in any other market because Darjeeling tea has a geographical indication (GI) status that is protected worldwide. The GI status has been provided to only 87 tea gardens in the region that produce around 10,000 tonnes of tea annually.
Darjeeling tea can neither be grown nor manufactured anywhere else in the world. Just as champagne is native to the Champagne district of France, Darjeeling tea is indigenous to Darjeeling.
Tea plantations in Darjeeling are situated at altitudes between 600 meters and 2,000 meters above sea level. The region gets adequate rainfall, and the location of the farms at these altitudes across steep slopes ensures excellent drainage to produce a number of Tea varieties. The soil, the intermittent clouds hovering above the mountains and the bright sunshine – all contribute to the magic of Darjeeling tea. Plucking Darjeeling tea leaves is a slow, exacting, and time-consuming process.
The state of Assam (a name derived from Asom, meaning one without equals), which includes the northern Brahmaputra valley, the middle Karbi and Cachar hills, and the southern Barak valley, is home to the single largest contiguous tea growing region in the world.
The region goes through extremely humid summers and heavy rainfall from March to September. Among its many reserved forests, Kaziranga is the most popular, being home to the Indian rhinoceros, also known as the ‘greater one-
Assam is also home to India’s largest tea research center, which is located at Tocklai in Jorhat and is managed by the Tea Research Association.
Tea plantations in Assam grow the Camellia Sinensis var Assamica variety of the tea plant. Assam is the only region globally where tea is grown in plains, and also the single another area apart from Southern China, which increases its native tea plant.
Different tea varieties from Assam have a rich, full-bodied, deep amber liquor with a brisk, malty and robust taste, making it ideal for the early morning cup. Second flush orthodox Assam teas are top-rated for their distinctive taste and bright liquor.
Orthodox Assam teas have been registered as a geographical indication (GI) in India.
Dooars and Terai Tea
The first plantation in Terai was named Champta, and it was set up by James White in 1862. Subsequently, the Dooars region saw its first tea plantation in the form of Gazeldubi. In Dooars, the Assamese tea plant was found to be more suitable.
Today, Dooars and Terai have a combined annual production of 226 million kg of tea, which accounts for around 25% of India’s total tea crop.
The name Dooars is derived from doors, highlighting the region’s significance as a gateway to Northeast India and Bhutan. With elevation ranging from 90 m to 1,750 m, Dooars is a nature tourist’s paradise, with its abundant tropical forests, streams meandering across tea gardens, low hills, and undulating plains. The region receives an average rainfall of around 3500 mm and the monsoon season stays from the middle of May to the end of September.
Tea from Dooars is described as bright, black, heavy with a good volumetric count. The first flush has a fresh virgin flavor, excellent brightness, and fragrance while the second flush is brisker. This tea varieties also play a reducer role in powerful blends.
Terai tea, on the other hand, is known for its spicy and slightly sweet taste.
In 1823, John Sullivan, who was then the British Collector of Coimbatore, built his stone house in Ooty (Ootacamund). Subsequently, Europeans made a beeline for the Nilgiri Hills, or the Blue Mountains, in their quest for a retreat to escape the summer heat.
Initial experiments with tea cultivation commenced in the Ketti Valley in 1853, and commercial production was first undertaken in the Thiashola and Dunsandle Estates in 1859. Over a century later, Glensmorgan emerged as the first estate in South India to produce green tea in 1969.
Nilgiri tea is named after the Nilgiris, or the Blue Mountains, where it is grown at elevations ranging from 1,000 meters to 2,500 meters. The mountains get their name from the saxe-blue kurinji flower, which blooms once every 12 years. The region receives an annual rainfall of 60 to 90 inches. The weather conditions provide Nilgiri teas with a characteristic briskness, exceptional fragrance, and exquisite flavor. The liquor is the golden yellow, provides a creamy taste in the mouth, and has notes of dusk flowers.
Nilgiri tea has also been registered as a GI in India, and around 92 million kg of different tea varieties are produced every year – about 10% of India’s total tea production.
The Kangra district in Himachal Pradesh was deemed as a potential tea growing region by Dr Jameson in 1829, following a feasibility survey. He brought Chinese tea plants from Almora and Dehradun and had them planted at Kangra, Nagrota, and Bhawani.
Kangra tea is now cultivated across an area of 2,063 hectares in Kangra
and Mandi districts. The Kangra valley is located on the foothills of the snow-capped Dhauladhar mountains, at an altitude of around 1,500 m above sea level and an average rainfall of 230-250 cm. It has a temperature range between 13°C and 35°C for the cropping season from March to October and is also blessed with average rainfall. Due to the favorable natural climate that’s free of pests and insects, tea is grown organically in the Kangra valley.
The Kangra region is famous for its range of tea varieties like green teas (Hyson, Young Hyson, and coarse grades) and black teas (Pekoe, Pekoe Suchong, Coarse teas, and Fannings) and is globally renowned for their exquisite flavor.
The Annamalais, a range of hills with altitudes from 900 to 1,600 meters between Kerala and Tamil Nadu, have around 12,000 hectares under tea cultivation. The mountain range is also home to the Tea Research Association, which is managed by UPASI.
Until the late 19th century, this area was primarily inundated with tropical forests. Two enterprising individuals – Carvesh Marsh and CRT Congreve – first visited the Annamalais in 1857 and attempted coffee cultivation at Paralai. Tea plantations started much later in 1908.
The tea from Annamallais generates a brisk and bright golden saffron liquor in the cup. It has a strong flavor and a medium to high tone fragrance with a biscuit to floral notes.
Annamalais tea is regarded as the ideal refresher early in the morning.
Like Annamalais, planters started with coffee cultivation in Wayanad in 1845. The first tea plantation was set up over a few acres at the New Hope estate in Ouchterlony Valley in 1874. A gold rush commenced in Wayanad in the 1880s, which lured overzealous speculators into buying out coffee and tea plantations in Cherambadi, Devala, and Pundalur and setting up mining companies.
The mining companies went bust eventually, and tea cultivation was back in the reckoning in 1897 at the Wentworth estate, which was previously owned the Wentworth Gold Mining Company. Soon, the business began to revive, and Wayanad became well known for its tea plantations.
Tea from Wayanad is medium toned with a clean fragrance and produces an earthy reddish, full-bodied liquor in the cup. The alcohol is light on briskness and mild and mellow with biscuit notes.
Karnataka is the coffee hub of India, but also produces around 5 million kg of tea every year. Tea plantations are mostly located around Chikmagalur, which is located in the Baba Budan Hills of the Sahyadris range. This area has a clean and healthy climate that’s ideal for tea plantations.
Teas from Karnataka produce a golden ochre liquor with a fair amount of briskness and body. They have a simple, balanced character and are medium toned. You can consume these teas many times a day.
Situated at the height of 6000 feet in Idukki district, the quiet, serene, and beautiful hill station of Munnar is viewed as a dream destination away from the hustle and bustle of city life. It has beautiful valleys, mountains, waterfalls, and forests and wildlife sanctuaries teeming with exotic species of flora and fauna.
Tea was first grown in Munnar by AH Sharp in the 18801. European company Finlay took over 33 tea estates in Munnar in 1895 and transferred management control to Kannan Devan Hills Produce Company in 1897. Tata Group and Finlay formed a joint venture in 1964, and tea plantations under the Tatas were transferred to a new company – Kannan Devan Hills Produced Co Pvt Ltd in 2005. This company now manages 16 estates over an area of around 8,600 hectares.
Tea from Munnar produces a golden yellow liquor with a healthy body, refreshing riskiness, and a hint of fruit. It has a clean, medium-toned fragrance, which is described as being akin to that of sweet biscuit in a dip of malt.
Vast expanses of plantations of tea, coffee, coconut, rubber, pepper, cardamom, rubber, and eucalyptus are visible in the periphery of a high altitude region near Travancore – consisting of Peermade (which lies 85 km east of Kottayam), Vagamon, Thekkady and Vandiperiyar. The Periyar river flows through this region, and it was once the summer retreat of the Maharaja of Travancore.
JD Monro started coffee production in 1862, and tea production started two years later. After the dreaded leaf disease began to hit coffee plants in 1875, the focus shifted rapidly towards tea cultivation.
By 1906, tea plantations covered 8,000 acres, while coffee farms were reduced to just around 500 acres. This tea has a medium fragrance with reddish liquor and yellow tinge. It has a balanced body and briskness – ideal for the elevenses (the British urge for a drink and a light snack at around 11 am) and also for evening time.