The Soul of the Sip: Understanding the Terroir of India's Top Three Tea Growing Regions

The Soul of the Sip: Understanding the Terroir of India's Top Three Tea Growing Regions

Michele Lillie


Ah, there's something truly magical about a cup of tea, isn't there? The elixir that awakens the senses, beckons conversation, and unites us in moments big and small. But have you ever stopped to wonder where your tea comes from? As we have seen in the prior two blog posts, understanding the concept of "terroir" allows us to appreciate every cup's rich diversity of flavors, aromas, and characteristics. Today, let's embark on an exciting journey through the tea-growing regions of India, uncovering the distinct terroirs that make each cup a unique experience.


Darjeeling: The “Champagne of Teas”

Himalaya mountains in Darjeeling, India


Location: The Darjeeling township is located at 6700 feet in the Himalayan Foothills. Most of the tea estates are located between 3500 and 7000 feet.

Teas Grown: This area is most known for black tea, although some estates also produce oolong, green and white teas.

Terroir: Discussing the terroir of Darjeeling is fascinating, as so many factors influence the aroma, color and flavor of your cup of tea.

Tea plant cultivar: The estates grow mostly the Camellia sinensis sinensis variety of the tea plant.

Climate: The climate is subtropical with a prolonged mountain winter. This challenging growing environment stresses the tea plants, producing more flavors and aromas. The abundance of clouds helps to increase theanine levels in the tea. This contributes to the umami taste but also brings a sense of calm. Teas cultivated in wetter years will be more astringent. Teas grown in drier years will have a more delicate flavor profile.

Soil: The soil of this region is wealthy in minerals and is somewhat more acidic. This leads to an exciting flavor profile that cannot be found in teas from other areas.


Tea garden in Darjeeling, India

Vegetation: The region is surrounded by forests and wildflowers, adding to the aroma and flavor of the tea.


Insects: In summer, there is a lack of water for the tea bushes. Green flies called Jassids bite the tea leaves, producing a natural chemical substance (turpene) to protect themselves, leading to flavors of honey, fruit and even muscatel.

Seasonality: Harvests are known as “flushes,” and each flush produces distinctive teas.

The 1st flush is from late February to mid-April. The nutrients are stored in the root system when the plants go dormant during winter. These nutrients are transferred to the growing tea buds and leaves when spring arrives. The Spring 1st flush teas are considered premium and delicate with floral, fruity and vegetal flavors. The liquor is bright golden. These are the teas that are given the “Champagne of Teas” moniker.

The 2nd flush is from May to June. The plants grow quickly during this time, producing larger and darker leaves. There is also a lack of water for the tea bushes. Green flies called Jassids bite the tea leaves, producing a natural chemical substance (turpene) to protect themselves, leading to the distinctive flavors of the teas from this flush. The taste is deeper and fuller with notes of honey, fruit and a touch of muscatel.

The Monsoonal flush stretches from July to September and is accompanied by heavy rains. This results in leaves that lack aroma and flavor. The teas from this flush are less desirable and are often used in blends.

Autumnal flush occurs from October to November. With the cooler weather, the teas are more flavorful, with notes of orange, grapes, stone fruit and berries. Although not as well known, teas from the autumnal flush can be very nice.


Tea Drinker's Note:

Although it is hard to generalize, most would describe the flavor of Darjeeling teas as delicate floral with muscatel notes. This is especially true of the first-flush teas. Sip them alone as an afternoon tea or pair them with light pastries.



Assam: Robust & Malty

Tea garden in Assam, India


Location: Northeastern Plains. More than half of India’s tea is grown here. Most is processed with the CTC method. This is the “crush, tear, curl” method of tea processing, meant for generic tea bags. The orthodox method is one that takes much more care during the tea processing, aiming to preserve the integrity of the tea leaf.

Teas Grown: The leaves from this region are destined for black teas. They are often used to create “British-style” teas, destined for tea bags and meant to have milk added. Some plantations produce orthodox teas and English Tealeaves carries three wonderful varieties.

Terroir: Although Assam only lies 125 miles east of Darjeeling, the different terroir produces very different teas.

Tea plant cultivar: This part of India is where the Camellia sinensis assamica plant was first discovered. It naturally produces large leaves with a resulting full-bodied and dark tea.

Climate: Hot, humid and tropical with heavy rainfall. The classic malty flavor of Assam teas is thought to be due to the heat and humidity.

Soil: Rich in iron, calcium, copper, magnesium and manganese, this mineral-rich soil gives a mineral mouthfeel to the teas.


Tea Drinker's Note:

If you seek a hearty cup to kick-start your day, a strong Assam tea will not disappoint. The teas are spicy, brisk, malty, and astringent. The liquor is bold orange and amber. It’s the perfect companion for a hearty breakfast.



Nilgiri: Fragrant & Lively


Image of the countryside in Nilgiri, India with clouds settling over the hills.

Location: This region is in southern India. Often known as The Blue Mountains, it boasts elevations of up to 6000 feet.

Teas Grown: Almost all of the tea grown in the Nilgiri area is grown for the domestic market and is CTC, although you will find some orthodox black, green and oolong teas.



Tea plant cultivar: 80% of the tea grown here is from the assamica variety of the tea plant.

Climate: It is subtropical with cold winters and much cloud cover. This care gets two monsoons. The winters bring on what is termed Nilgiri frosted teas. They are made from December to February, with the best coming from late January. The frost is said to give special and unique aromas.

Tea Drinker's Note:

Nilgiri tea is described as aromatic, fruity, and bright. It has less astringency and is lighter than Darjeelings. It is great for iced teas or fruity blends. If you're seeking something refreshing, a cold Nilgiri green tea can be an excellent palate cleanser or a daytime refresher.


Conclusion: Your Journey Awaits

As you can see, the terroirs of India's tea-growing regions offer various experiences, each beautiful and unique in its own right. Remember, tea is not just a beverage; it’s a journey through lands, cultures, and traditions. So, go ahead—explore, discover, and find the tea that resonates with your soul. Cheers to a world of flavors waiting for you in each cup!

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