Nilgiris: The Blue Mountain teas
The Nilgiri district lies in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The Nilgiris (blue mountains) are part of the Western Ghats that run along the western coast of the peninsula. It gets its name from the saxe-blue kurinji (Strobilanthes) flowers that bloom here every 12 years. Famous for the wildlife and flora seen here, it’s other claim to fame is its tea.
The Nilgiri tea is better known to some as the ‘third cousin’ in terms of popularity, coming behind Assam and Darjeeling. But increasingly, these teas are finding their audience. And among them are the North Americans who find in the Nilgiri black tea, a perfect balance of colour, strength and astringency to meet the requirements of each and every tea drinker, be it a tea connoisseur or novice. Nilgiri tea estates have since been doing well and improving on the tea types they produce.
How tea came to the Nilgiris
The Nilgiris became home to tea after it was ceded to the British East India Company, following the 4th Anglo Indian war of 1799, when Tipu Sultan was defeated. Over the next two decades, Englishmen came and saw. But it was only in 1819 that John Sullivan, the Commissioner of Coimbatore came up from the plains. With its cool climate, he put out a petition to the government in Madras asking that a sanatorium be created here.
Later, in 1833, Dr Christie, an Assistant Surgeon from Madras visited these hills and asked for tea seeds to plant here. It was a period of trials, experiments and innovations before tea made from plants grown here were sent to London’s Mincing Lane to be auctioned.
Tea from the Nilgiris
With a subtropical climate, similar to that found in Darjeeling, the Nilgiris produce hand-sorted, whole-leaf grades like the orange pekoe (OP) and pekoe cut black tea. The orange pekoe is a basic, medium-grade black tea consisting of many whole tea leaves of a specific size, whereas pekoe is a finer grade with young tea leaves and buds. Lower tea grades like broken orange pekoe and CTC are also produced here.