How to find the best tea in India
Zeroing in on the best tea in India is practically impossible. You’d have to choose between muscatel-scented Darjeeling teas, full-bodied Assam teas, and smooth Nilgiri teas. But if you’re open to broadening your horizons and discovering new ways to enjoy your black tea, India is the place to go. It is home to some of the world’s finest black teas, along with well-loved tea recipes like indian masala chai tea. It is also home to over 100,000 tea estates, and second only to China in terms of annual tea production.
In fact, Indian tea is great for people who want to be introduced to tea culture.
- Flavor-wise, they are quite close to traditional European tastes. If you like tea blends such as English Breakfast, you already get the gist.
- It’s easy to get overwhelmed by too many choices when it comes to tea. Conveniently, Indian teas aren’t as diverse as their counterparts from China. They also tend to be more consistent in quality than Chinese teas.
- Indian teas are less “ceremonial”. Brewing a Chinese tea is not hard, but it does require some knowledge and experience. Indian teas are usually prepared the traditional European way – in a teapot. When brewed, they are easy to handle and don’t turn bitter on oversteeping, a common mistake for beginners.
- Many tea brands produce premium Indian teas in easy-to-use teabags, making them even more approachable.
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Read on to find our Top 10 Best Indian Tea picks. But first, make sure you know what to look for.
In search of best Indian tea
There’s no general description for ‘Indian black tea’ because there is no such thing. India has three major tea-producing regions, and each has some unique and iconic teas, many of them can be named “best tea in India”.
The northeastern state of Assam produces the bulk of India’s tea. In the early 1800s, a certain variety of the tea plant (camellia sinensis assamica) was found to be growing naturally in the jungles of Assam. This discovery was a boon for the British East India Company, who were looking for ways to end China’s tea monopoly at the time. Since then, the warm, rainy lowlands of Assam have been producing a unique range of strong, malty Assam black teas.
A few hundred miles northwest of Assam are the gorgeous hills of Darjeeling. This is another tea-producing region that many would say is home to some of the best teas in India. Tea plants that grow here are of the China variety. In fact, they were smuggled there by the British who considered Darjeeling’s microclimate to be ideal for tea cultivation. Soon enough, the region was on the map for producing the ‘champagne of teas’. Darjeeling teas, with their distinctive muscatel aroma, make up only 1 percent of India’s tea output. But they leave all other teas behind in terms of their global fame!
In the southern part of India, the Nilgiri hills produce another variety of black tea that is smooth, mellow, and open to all kinds of blends and flavorings. Nilgiri teas grow at very high elevations, but the climate here is relatively mild. As a result, the tea develops a well-balanced flavor and grows abundantly enough to be reasonably priced. Nilgiri tea may not be the best tea in India by the usual standards. But it lends itself well to milk, cream and spices. And it makes a delicious iced drink.
Best Indian teas in reviews
Indian black teas tend to be “strong and punchy”, giving you the “perfect caffeine kick” mixed with “delicious smoothness”. Darjeeling teas are the more fragrant of the lot, offering a “delicate and complex mix of notes”. Fans of the tea find it “fruity and delightful without being astringent”. Assam teas make “good, strong breakfast brews” with their “good color” and “sweet and malty flavor”. When brewed with milk and warming spices, they make excellent chai teas. Nilgiri black teas are “easy to drink” with their “pleasant taste” that is sometimes “reminiscent of good Ceylons”. Offering “caffeine without the bitterness”, they also “stand up to honey and milk” and make “perfect iced teas”.
Indian teas need to be prepared just right to be enjoyed to their fullest. You can get your hands on the best tea in India – Assam, Darjeeling or Nilgiri – and still manage to miss out on its iconic flavor. If you like your tea with milk or cream and sugar, stick to Assam or Nilgiri black teas or go for Masala Chai. Premium Darjeeling teas (especially the first flush) should be enjoyed without milk. Green teas and oolongs are relatively new to India, but you’ll find some delightful options from Darjeeling’s tea estates. Darjeeling oolongs in particular are quite close to the traditional first flush flavor and make for a light, refreshing cup.