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So when we talk about tea, there are a number of factors that influence the taste, aromas and flavors in your cup. The three important factors of the dry leaf that influence the characteristics of your tea include:
In this blog we will discuss the diversity of Indian terroir in tea growing regions and how it influences the mouthfeel and flavors of the tea that you are drinking. Before we discuss terroir, let's talk about what tea terroir really means. Tea terroir is the environment in which tea is produced and comprises the topography (eg. latitude, altitude, valleys, lakes, rivers), the climate (eg. season and rain), the soil and the plant environment (eg. surrounding trees).Terroir is important as the relationship between the growing environment and the tea plants affects the chemistry of the tea leaf and therefore the taste, aromas and flavor. Sometimes when the tea plant has to struggle, then the complexity of aromas and flavors can be more concentrated. It is thought that about 60% of the tea aromas and flavors are dependent on terroir.
So we tried to look at the terroir of three different tea growing regions in India and from where our teas in particular originate and tried to see what particularly helped make them so special:
Darjeeling is located in the foothills of the Himalayas, 27° N from the equator, but is still at quite an elevation with Darjeeling township being at about 6,700 ft. Darjeeling primarily has Camellia sinensis var sinensis variety and our Darjeeling teas are grown between a broad range of 3,500-7000 feet in Kurseong and Mirik district. Darjeeling is gorgeous, with many flowing rivers but few lakes. In spite of being in the tropics, due to the altitude, Darjeeling has a subtropical climate and so a prolonged mountain winter. High altitude also brings cold nights, hot days, lots of clouds and so mountain regions are tougher environments resulting in tea plants being stressed and in turn having more flavors and aromas.
Due to the high altitude, the abundance of clouds, leads to an excellent cloud cover that gives natural shade which inturn helps increase theanine levels in tea. Theanine contributes to the wonderful umami taste in tea, the brothiness and helps bring a sense of calm. In winter, because of the cold, the tea plants are stressed and go dormant. They store the nutrients in their root system and so when spring arrives the nutrients are then transferred to growing tea buds, leaves and shoots. Therefore first flush teas (teas made in spring), especially those of the first pluckings, are extremely premium. Darjeeling first flush teas are extremely delicate with floral, fruity and vegetal flavors that are extremely coveted and have led to Darjeeling teas being called the “Champagne of Teas.”
In the hot summer, with the overhead sun, there is no water and the tea bushes have a bit of drought. Also, often they are attached by green flies also called jassids. The bitten leaves in turn produce a natural chemical substance called turpene to protect themselves and this leads to flavors of honey and fruits or the prominent muscatel flavors.
In the monsoon season, due to the heavy rains, the leaves have too much water and so do not have much aroma and flavors. So monsoon flush, though not premium, is often used in tea blends. However after the monsoons end, drier weather prevails.
By November, there is a nip in the air, often temperatures going below freezing in the night and mornings especially in the tea gardens that are situated on higher altitudes. This is again the time for exceptional high quality teas that have a rich mouthfeel with fruity flavors and notes of oranges, grapes, stone fruit and berries. Darjeeling autumnal flushes are a well kept secret and one of our personal favorite. After autumn, the tea plants go dormant in the winter and the gardens fall asleep with a few months of much needed down time before the hustle and bustle and plucking and processing of these marvelous teas restarts again in spring. In some lower elevations, few gardens are trying their hand at crafting some winter oolongs and white teas, most of which are still in experimental stages.
Located in south India, Nilgiris is part of the Western Ghats and the town is located on a high altitude of almost 5900 ft. Just like in Darjeeling, high altitude brings subtropical climate, cold and prolonged winter, cloud cover, cold nights and hot days. Nilgiris also gets two monsoons. Nilgiri teas are lesser known but again, we feel they are just a wonderful hidden secret. They fall somewhere between Assam and Darjeeling. We find Nilgiri teas to have a mineral mouthfeel and less astringency and wonder if it has to do with the laterite soil type. Nilgiri teas are extremely aromatic with mild floral and grassy flavors. Nilgiri frosted teas, which are made from December to February with the best lots towards the later part of January are loved by tea connoisseurs. The frost gives special aromas that are so unique and loved by all who try it..
At sea level, the Bhramaputra river brings nutrient rich clay soil to the surrounding gardens. Assam also has heavy rainfall and the climate is hot, wet and very tropical. The North East areas have the native variety of tea plants that is the Camellia sinensis assamica. Assam teas are known to be brisk and malty, with the tea liquors having a bold orange and amber color. It is thought that the heat and humidity is responsible for the maltiness of Assam teas. We also find that our Assam black orthodox teas have a mineral mouthfeel and feel this is from the mineral rich soils that are laid down by the mighty Bhramaputra river. Assam soils, like those found in Nilgiri, are rich in iron, calcium, copper, magnesium and manganese.
Now that you know more about terroir affecting the mouthfeel, aromas and flavors of tea, compare and contrast our teas from different regions of India. Each tea has its own story of its origin to tell and will definitely open a whole new sensation for you to explore.