There are three major tea-growing regions in India. Nilgiri; the least known, Darjeeling; which mostly produces high-end premium tea, and Assam; a region best known for producing robust black tea in sufficient quantities to make it the world’s largest tea growing region.
The state of Assam is located in northeastern India. It holds the distinction of being the second region to produce tea commercially, after China. There is a strain of the tea plant native to the region, but when the British first grew tea there in the early nineteenth century, they used plants from China. This was a tricky business since the Chinese guarded their secrets closely, trying to keep their tea monopoly intact.
The British experienced great difficulty getting the Chinese plants to thrive, but they persevered. Their luck improved when they began growing a hybrid of Indian and Chinese tea plants. The first Assam tea – 350 pounds worth – arrived in London in late 1838. That year saw the Chinese export 30 million pounds of tea to England. By the early twentieth century, India produced 350 million pounds of tea annually.
There are many high quality teas produced in Assam, but much of the tea grown there is what some would categorize as everyday tea. Golden tips on the ends of the leaves characterize better quality black teas. Though often more expensive, tea that has more tips typically produces a smoother and more flavorful cup.
Assam has diversified and now produces modest amounts of other types of green and white teas, but to this day it is black tea that the region is best known for. Much of the harvest goes into popular blends such as English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, and Scottish Breakfast. So if you’re looking for a good pick-me-up or just some very nice black tea, try opening your eyes with a cup of Assam tea!