Years ago there were commercials touting the “uncola”! Today, there is the UNTEA. No, it’s not Rooibos, honeybush, chamomile, yerba maté, guayusa, or a host of other plant matter being called “tea.” It’s not even true tea, the kind made from the tea bush (Camellia Sinensis). So, what is this thing called “UNTEA”?
To answer that question we have to look at tea growing in India.
There are three main tea growing regions (plus areas that grow some tea): Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri. Each has its own flavor characteristics, so unique that they are protected. The Darjeeling Tea Association makes sure that only teas actually grown in the Darjeeling area bear the official label. Assams, with their rich malty flavor, are from a varietal of the tea bush called Camellia Sinensis assamica and maintain a distinction from other teas. The Nilgiris are equally distinctive, having some of the fruity characteristics of the Darjeelings with a more rich flavor similar to the Assams. A common description of the taste is dark, intensely aromatic, and fragrant.
Nilgiri is mountainous, with peaks rising from 5,000 to 8,500 feet about sea level and a climate perfect for year-round tea production. Tea planting on a commercial basis started in 1859 and goes by “flushes” as do Darjeelings and other teas. About 25% of the harvest is the first flush (April-May), another 40-45% is second flush (September-November), and the balance (about 30-35%) are the best (January and August).
About 30% of Nilgiri District tea production comes from plantations which are represented by the Nilgiri Planters’ Association, part of the United Planters Association of South India (UPASI). The other 70% is from small growers, many having only a hectare each, making Nilgiri tea a true “small business” undertaking for the most part. About half of all Nilgiri tea ends up being sold in other countries, the big customer being the former USSR until about 1990, and goes into blends that fill tea bags. The best quality is Orange Pekoe (OP), with the next best being Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP). However, most Nilgiris are processed using the CTC method, like many Assams are. This makes them affordable for locals and overseas markets alike.
This all leads up to what the UNTEA is.
In 1922, Sir Robert Stanes, at the age of 72 and after being in India 55 years, had built up quite a business empire, including cotton mills, tea and coffee plantations, coffee curing, a motor works and tire re-treading. In addition, he set up and developed the Stanes High School, the city’s top educational institution at that time, with the Stanes School in Coonoor being established by his family later on. Not content with these accomplishments, Stanes founded the United Nilgiri Tea Estates. The United Nilgiri Tea Estates trades under the symbol “UNTEA.”
As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”
Considering that United Nilgiri Tea Estates sells in bulk to processors who mix the tea in with other teas and bag them, the chances of some of it being in your bagged tea is pretty high. You can tell your tea friends that you drink the UNTEA!
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