There are 3 official tea growing regions in India. Nilgiri is the least known of these (the other two are Assam and Darjeeling).
Nilgiri doesn’t get much respect, but teas from this region are some of our favorites.
Nilgiri teas are grown in the Blue Mountains, which are part of the Western Ghat mountain range which stretches across South India. They are some of the highest grown teas in the world, up to 8000’ elevation. And Nilgiri is one of the most beautiful tea regions in the world.
The rolling hills of Nilgiri (photo courtesy of the Coonoor Tea Trade Association).
Nilgiri teas are one of the great undiscovered gems of the tea world, and often one of the greatest bargains. They are known for being very aromatic and medium-bodied with a smooth, mellow taste and subtle, natural sweetness (almost fruitiness) to the cup. Nilgiri also makes some of the best iced teas in the world; they never turn bitter, they don’t cloud, and that natural sweet note comes out (especially when you make cold-brew iced tea).
Tea was first brought to Nilgiri in 1835 and has been commercially grown there since the 1850’s. Therefore, many of the established tea estates have that old British colonial look and feel to them.
The manager’s bungalow at the Glendale Tea Estate (photo courtesy of Glendale Teas).
The vast majority of tea from Nilgiri is machine processed (CTC production) and ends up in tea bags or being used in cheap blends. This is a major reason that Nilgiri teas as a category tend to be inexpensive. Approximately 20% of Nilgiri teas are mostly hand-processed (orthodox production) with wonderful aromas and flavors. When you can find those exceptional Nilgiri teas, they are usually still very reasonably priced.
We highly recommend the Nilgiri, Glendale Estate, SFTGFOP. It’s one of the most exceptional orthodox production Nilgiri teas we've have tasted in years.
The growing season in Nilgiri is unique, and in some ways closer to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) than other Indian tea regions. Teas are grown year round in Nilgiri and experience two monsoons each year (like Ceylon), which dramatically impacts the growing and production cycles. And all of this leads to the medium-bodied, mellow, sweet cup. Even the inexpensive Nilgiri teas are fabulous drinking all day teas.
The Organic Korakundah Estate, BOP black tea from Nilgiri is a lovely breakfast tea and a fabulous iced tea for a great bargain.
The rest of South India also makes some fabulous teas, often overlooked. One of our favorite South Indian tea producers is the Iyerpadi Estate in the Anamalie Hills. Iyerpadi is one of the first organic tea producers in South India and they take this mission very seriously.
The Iyerpadi tea factory, surrounded by tea fields, which you can tell are older tea plants (probably at least 50 years old) because they are planted in clumps, not in straight rows (photo courtesy GS Haly).
Another unique feature of Nilgiri teas is that most of the teas are grown by independent small growers (sometimes with as little as one acre of tea bushes). When these leaves are plucked, they are sold to nearby independent tea factories/gardens which process the fresh leaves into finished tea. So the leaves tend to be harvested by the people who actually own the bushes (sometimes as cooperatives) as opposed to hired pluckers.
Tea fields just outside Coonoor, India, in the Nilgiri Hills (photo courtesy of Glendale Teas).
So if you’ve never ventured beyond English Breakfast or Earl Grey, try a Nilgiri tea. They are some of the most satisfying teas in the world...grown in some of the most beautiful country in the world.
View from the Iyerpadi Tea Estate in the Anamalie Hills, South India (photo courtesy of GS Haly).