The Upward Trend in the Quality of Teas from India

Four teas from Doke Tea Garden – truly a cut above!
Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved.

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For centuries, many of the teas from India that we Westerners in Europe and North America were used to drinking were of the CTC variety or that dust in teabags. Not anything to write home about, as the saying goes, and in dire need of flavor additives such as milk, sugar, spices, honey, lemon, various fruit flavors, and even flower petals and mint leaves. These days, though, there is a definite upward trend in the quality of teas we are seeing from India.

Some of this trend can be attributed to the tea gardens in the Darjeeling area of West Bengal, India, having achieved a geographical designation for their teas a few years ago. When customers are assured that they are getting true Darjeeling tea, not some inferior tea with a bit of Darjeeling leaves blended in, they are willing to pay more, as some of the record prices now being paid for these teas can attest.

But there are other indicators: more teas from other tea-growing areas of India, such as Assam, Nilgiri, etc., are being sold by tea garden and flush, not just as “black Indian tea” in bags. And the various styles are increasing. I, for one, hadn’t heard of green teas from Assam until quite recently. Now I see them all over. And white teas. Plus I am getting inquiries online from people in India wanting information on how to process oolongs.

What does all this mean? Personally, I see it as a very good sign. From huge plantations churning out nondescript black teas, growers are now beginning a transition to smaller gardens (or huge gardens with smaller sections) growing tea plants for use in making more premium teas. Tea processors from China and elsewhere are being sought out to help in this transition. Yes, indeed, things are looking up for India and for tea drinkers around the world.

A great illustration is a garden in northern India.

My experiences trying various samples of this garden’s teas have been real eye-openers. I mean, they could have taken the easy route – harvesting the leaves, processing them into those little CTC bits or that dust in a teabag. After all, people drink a lot of that stuff. The better tea brands could have been crowding out all those cheap bagged teas off of the grocery store shelves. So why not? Because there’s more at issue here. That trend upward, for one thing. A slow, tough slog with a substantial learning curve for folks who are used to how those other teas are processed. And hopefully a path that leads to better things for the owners of the tea gardens and for the people who work for them there.

While those bagged teas, those blends that are in the cups of people all across The United Kingdom, Ireland, and even here in Canada and the U.S., still have their place, people there are waking up to this new trend, waking to these more varied and higher quality teas. We’ve learned to stop accepting just “green tea” and “black tea” as our choices, and now we want that Spring Flush, etc., from a certain garden, or an oolong from Taiwan instead of Anxi, or a raw well-aged pu-erh instead of that artificially aged ripe/cooked pu-erh. In other words, we’re getting picky. And that’s a good thing. Having a vendor smother that inferior tea with flower petals and bits of dried fruit will no longer due, at least I hope it won’t. Getting a taste of the “good stuff” can be addictive and mean that you’ll never want to go back. These teas are certainly some of the ones that spoiled me!


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