One of the chief areas in India for growing tea is the state of Assam in the northeastern part of the country. There are hundreds of tea gardens (Chah-Buwas or tea plantations) with names that can be real tongue twisters. Two of my favorites are Borengajuli and Tarajulie (simple to say if you pronounce them a syllable at a time). Dan Bolton, a tea writer, collected a partial list of Assam tea gardens and tea estates. I have added to that and ran the total up to about double what he had. Many of them are not known outside the tea auction houses. Others are part of larger companies such as McLeod Russel/Williamson and Tata. But with so many, a full list is a bit tricky. I wrote about a few in this article, and thought it was about time to write about some more.
The exact number of tea gardens varies, but one thing is for sure: they produce a lot of tea – and that amount varies per source, with one claiming it’s 400 million kilograms and another claiming it’s a mere 1.5 million pounds (about 680,400 kilograms, a lot less). The tea gardens stretch out on either side of roads as you drive through Assam Valley where the Brahmaputra river flows. They are more level than gardens in more mountainous areas of India, China, Taiwan, and other tea growing nations. And the bushes are low-growing (about waist height or lower).
Some tea gardens of note:
- Achabam Tea Estate – the name literally means “it has good soil”; founded in 1921 by the manager of the Borhat Tea Estate (Mr. Knoll); between the Desam River and neighboring villages; the garden is quite productive, producing as much as 2,836 kgs per hectare.
- Borengajuli Tea Estate – part of McLeod Russel (a member of the Williamson Magor Group); a smaller garden near the village of Bamonjuli where most of the older residents help in the tea garden and keep it safe from wild elephants and their children go off to larger towns to seek work (usually as domestics); the tea has a very high reputation (including with me and hubby).
- Dikom Tea Estate – named after the high quality of the water there; dates back to the Medieval era of the state of Assam when it was ruled by kings; teas from here are tippy, bright and malty in flavor, famous the world over; in the heart of the tea growing region of Assam; very well maintained fields with an aggressive uprooting and replanting program using high quality clones with high yields; their teas tend to have a natural sweetness, said to be from the water in the area.
- Dhunseri Tea Estate – managed by the Dhunseri Group; their tea has won the trust of traders and consumers, due to its superior quality.
- Glenburn Tea Estate – on a hillock above the banks of the River Rungeet, high in the Himalayas, overlooked by the Kanchenjunga mountain range; started by a Scottish tea company in 1859 and then passed into the hands of one of India’s pioneering tea planting families – The Prakashes.
- Harmutty Tea Estate – founded in 1870 by Major Gibb; named after Queen Hiramati; Dikrong River is along one side and their northern border extends into the thickly forested hills of Arunachal Pradesh; fertile soil is perfect for growing the carefully selected clonal plants there; the leaves get processed into a range of teas that are full-bodied and flavorful.
- Keyhung Tea Estate – at 1,500 feet above sea level; produces Broken Orange Pekoe (BOP) Cut, Torn, and Curled (CTC) tea that is strong, full-bodied with excellent maltiness and rich color – perfect for an early morning pick-me-up; garden is in the state’s northeast corner, between the state of Arunachal Pradesh and the country of Myanmar (Burma); it covers nearly 3 square miles, 2 of which are under tea; over 3,000 people are employed in the harvesting and processing of the tea, and a total of 10,000 people call the estate (more like a small town) their home.
- Mangalam Tea Estate – has a unique style of bush planting; it is managed by Jayshree Tea Industries who uprooted original plantings and replanted with 100% clonal bushes with greater yield potential; the plantings are arranged so that employees can drive from place to place; teas produced are very high quality Assams processed as CTC and Orthodox styles.
- Mokalbari Tea Estate – founded in 1917, produces premium 2nd flush Assam tea as CTC and Orthodox styles; not to be confused with Makaibari, a Darjeeling tea garden.
- Satrupa Tea Estate – in Upper Assam, at the eastern-most part of the Assam region; rich red loom soil, year-round tropical wet climate, and old-growth forest all around; on the periphery of the last contiguous rainforest tracts in the Eastern Himalayas.
There are many more, but this will give you an idea of the tea-growing prowess of this part of India. This is also my favorite class of teas. They can be infused milder or stronger, served over ice or piping hot, stand up to milk and sugar or please your palate as they are, add a lively appeal to a bland tea blend or stand on it’s own. You can’t go wrong.
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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