India is the world’s biggest consumer of tea and its citizens drink fifteen times more tea than coffee. Although the tea plant was indigenous to India, and was believed to have been drunk by tribes in the north and east of the country as a medicine, tea production and consumption really took off once the British decided to grow tea on a mass scale in the 1800s, in order to circumvent Chinese trading restrictions.
Tea preparation methods vary hugely, depending on where in the country you are and reflecting India’s rich geographic and cultural diversity. You might be offered ‘butter tea’, made from tea leaves, butter, water and salt in the Himalyan region; ‘Kadak Chai’, a strong tea brewed almost to bitterness, in the northern regions; or ‘Masala Chai’, tea with spices and milk, which most people would associate with India and the ‘chai wallahs’ or tea servers seen on the streets of India. ‘Chai’ simply means ‘tea’ in Hindi and has been adopted by Western tea drinkers to mean any type of Indian spiced tea. Most tea in India is black tea, drunk with milk and often with sugar.
The two most famous types of Indian tea are named after the regions they grow in: Assam, a strong, hearty brew that is often used as the basis of breakfast blends is grown in the world’s largest tea-growing region in the north-eastern area of India, not far from the Himalayas. Darjeeling, an elegant and light tea- often called ‘the Champagne of teas’ and highly prized by tea connoisseurs- is grown in the West Bengal region of East India. Both varieties are produced from plants originally imported from China by The East India Company in the 1820s, although differences in soil, rainfall and altitude mean that each variety of tea has its own unique character.
As autumn approaches and a heartier brew is called for, why not explore our range of Indian teas?
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