The Essence of Indian Tea: From the mass producing estate to the rise of small tea growers.

A leading player in the global tea industry, India, has a rich tea culture that spans centuries. With an impressive export volume of approximately 241 million kilograms in 2021, India holds a significant position in both tea production and consumption. As the second most consumed beverage worldwide, tea plays a prominent role in India's cultural fabric. In recent years, small tea growers have emerged alongside mass-producing estates, focusing on crafting small batches of high-quality loose leaf tea. This informative blog will delve into the captivating world of Indian tea, exploring its historical roots, discovering renowned teas from across the nation, and uncovering the rise of specialty tea production. We will also shed light on the growing influence of small tea growers and the role of platforms like Eteakol in revolutionizing the sourcing process, by connecting buyers directly with verified Indian specialty tea producers. 

The origins:  Assam, the birthplace of Indian tea


women working in assam tea plantation


Tea cultivation in India has a fascinating history that dates back to ancient times. However, it was in the 19th century that tea plants from China were introduced to Assam by the British, marking a significant turning point in the Indian tea industry. The tea plant that is commonly found in India, Camellia sinensis var. assamica, is a subspecies of the tea plant found in China, Camellia sinensis var. sinensis. The Assam variety, known for its larger leaves and robust flavor profile, is perfectly suited to the climate and soil conditions of the region of Assam.

During the British colonial era, the British East India Company recognized the potential of tea cultivation in India. In their quest to break China's monopoly on tea production, they brought tea plants from China and initiated large-scale tea plantations in the fertile lands of Assam. This marked the birth of the Indian tea industry and set the stage for the subsequent growth and diversity of tea cultivation across the country. Not long after, the lush hills of Darjeeling, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, joined the tea revolution. The unique geography, altitude, and climate of the region bestowed upon Darjeeling tea its distinctive flavors and delicate aroma. Often referred to as the "Champagne of Teas," Darjeeling tea holds a special place in the tea community, revered as one of the finest teas in the world.

The discovery and introduction of tea to India have forever altered the landscape of the subcontinent. From its humble beginnings to the vast plantations and diverse tea-growing regions, tea has become an integral part of Indian culture and a significant contributor to the country's economy. 

A deep dive into Indian tea culture

Indian tea culture is deeply rooted in the country's history and is a significant part of daily life. From the mornings to evenings, tea holds a central place in the routines of millions of Indians, transcending regions, religions, and social backgrounds. Serving as a social catalyst it brings people together and serves as a medium for conversations and bonding. Whether it's sharing a cup of tea with family and friends or offering it to guests, tea is an integral part of hospitality. It is common for guests to be greeted with a warm cup of tea as a gesture of welcome and respect. Tea is also an integral part of religious and spiritual practices in India. It is offered to deities during rituals and ceremonies, symbolizing purity and devotion.

One of the most iconic aspects of Indian tea culture is the preparation and consumption of chai,  a spiced tea made by brewing black tea leaves with a combination of spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Each household and region may have its unique recipe and brewing method, resulting in a diverse range of flavors and aromas. 

Tea stalls, commonly known as "chaiwallahs," are ubiquitous in Indian cities and towns. These small roadside establishments offer quick and affordable cups of tea. The chaiwallahs have become cultural icons, serving as community gathering spots. 

Indian tea culture is also influenced by regional variations and tea specialties. Each tea-growing region in India, such as Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri, has its unique tea varieties with distinctive flavors, aroma profiles, and brewing techniques. 

Exploring the different tea regions of India 

India's diverse tea-growing regions give rise to a remarkable array of famous teas, each with its unique characteristics and flavors. 

  • Darjeeling Tea: 

Nestled in the misty slopes of the Himalayas, the Darjeeling region in West Bengal produces the world-famous Darjeeling tea. Called the "Champagne of Teas" this highly prized tea is renowned for its delicate flavor profile, captivating aroma, and light golden liquor. The cool climate, high altitude, and unique terroir of Darjeeling contribute to the tea's distinct muscatel notes and floral undertones.

With its organic cultivation methods, Darjeeling tea has become a favorite among connoisseurs seeking a refined and premium loose leaf tea experience.

  • Assam Tea: 

Hailing from the lush plains of Assam, in northeastern India, Assam tea is renowned for its robust and malty flavor. The region's warm and humid climate, abundant rainfall, and rich soil create the perfect conditions for growing robust tea bushes. Assam tea leaves are known for their large size and deep, rich coppery infusion. This full-bodied and invigorating tea is favored by those seeking a strong cuppa that can be enjoyed plain or with a splash of milk.

  • Nilgiri Tea: 

The Nilgiri region, nestled in the picturesque Western Ghats of southern India, is known for producing Nilgiri tea. The tea gardens here enjoy a moderate climate, with misty hills and cool temperatures. Nilgiri tea leaves are characterized by their dark, wiry appearance and produce a bright and brisk liquor with refreshing floral notes. Often used in blends, Nilgiri tea adds a mild yet distinctive flavor to the overall blend's profile.

  • Kangra Tea: 

Found in the scenic Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh, Kangra tea is a hidden gem among Indian teas. Grown at high altitudes in the shadow of the majestic Dhauladhar Range, Kangra tea benefits from the region's cool climate and pure mountain air. The tea leaves yield a light, bright liquor with a unique balance of delicate flavors and gentle floral aromas, making it a delightful choice for tea enthusiasts seeking a refined and nuanced experience.

  • Munnar Tea: 

Situated in the idyllic Western Ghats of Kerala, the picturesque town of Munnar is known for its tea estates. Munnar tea is characterized by its bright infusion, smooth flavor, and distinct citrusy notes. The region's high elevation, coupled with the misty and cool climate, contributes to the tea's exceptional quality and flavor.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in specialty teas, including organic and artisanal varieties. While Assam and Darjeeling teas have gained international recognition, there is a thriving community of small tea growers and producers across the country dedicated to crafting wide ranges of teas, dispelling the misconception that the country solely produces one type of tea either CTC tea or black teas. 

From delicate green teas with grassy notes to floral white teas and complex Oolongs,  small Indian tea producers are expanding their repertoire to showcase the true depth and versatility of their craft, catering to a discerning niche consumer base seeking unique flavor experiences and a deeper connection to the tea's origin and production methods.

The Rise of Small Tea Growers : shifting towards quality & sustainability

In India  the shift towards sustainability is driven in large part by the rise of small tea growers; dedicated farmers are not only focused on producing high-quality organic teas but also championing environmentally friendly practices and fostering a more sustainable tea industry.

By prioritizing the cultivation of high-quality tea leaves and meticulously tending to their tea bushes to ensure optimal flavor development, they understand that the key to producing exceptional teas lies in the quality of the leaves. By carefully selecting the finest leaves and employing precise plucking techniques, these growers ensure that only the most flavorful and tender leaves are harvested for processing.

The craftsmanship and attention to detail displayed by these small tea growers are reflected in the processing methods they employ. They embrace traditional techniques and often incorporate innovative approaches to enhance the flavors and aromas of the teas they produce. From withering and rolling to oxidation and firing, every step is meticulously executed to bring out unique characteristics and flavor profiles.

Traditional mass production in the tea industry often relies on intensive cultivation methods, utilizing fertilizers and pesticides that can have detrimental effects on the environment and surrounding ecosystems. However, small tea growers are challenging this paradigm by embracing sustainable farming practices. By eschewing the use of chemicals and adopting organic cultivation methods, they prioritize the long-term health of the land. 

A healthy ecosystem is vital for the quality of the teas, putting an  emphasis on small-batch production by prioritizing  quality over quantity, minimizing waste and reducing the ecological footprint. Smaller tea gardens production allows for better control over the entire tea production process. These small tea producers often operate within local communities, creating opportunities for employment and socio-economic development. By supporting these growers, consumers contribute to the well-being of these communities, helping to build a more equitable and inclusive tea industry.

The rise of small tea growers in India has not only elevated the standard of Indian teas but has also showcased the country's capacity to produce teas that rival the best in the world. These growers' unwavering commitment to excellence and their dedication to preserving traditional tea-making techniques have positioned India as a hub for high-quality teas. 

women small tea farmer in assam


Eteakol: Empowering  Tea Producers

In the traditional world of tea trading, platforms like Eteakol have emerged as transformative forces, revolutionizing the way tea producers connect with global buyers and creating opportunities for small tea growers to thrive. Eteakol serves as a trusted bridge, facilitating direct sourcing of high-quality, organic  loose leaf teas and empowering Indian tea producers in numerous socio-economic ways.

One of the key benefits of platforms like Eteakol is the opportunity they provide for tea enthusiasts and buyers from across the world to discover hidden gems among small tea growers. These growers, often tucked away in remote regions, possess a wealth of expertise and a passion for crafting exceptional teas. However, without a platform like Eteakol, their teas might go unnoticed by the wider market. By connecting these producers directly to global buyers, Eteakol ensures that these teas are not only discovered but also celebrated for their quality, uniqueness, and flavor profiles.

Direct sourcing through Eteakol has significant socio-economic implications for small tea growers. It empowers them by eliminating intermediaries and creating a transparent and fair trade environment. Through direct sourcing, tea growers receive fair prices for their teas, enabling them to invest in their farms, communities, and the well-being of their workers. This sustainable economic model fosters growth, stability, and the preservation of traditional tea cultivation practices.

By acting as a trusted partner for both tea producers and buyers, Eteakol offers a reliable platform for conducting business. Whether buyers are looking to purchase small quantities for specialized markets or bulk quantities to meet larger demands, Eteakol facilitates seamless transactions, ensuring efficiency and transparency at every step. This establishes a sense of trust and fosters long-term relationships between tea producers and buyers, leading to mutually beneficial collaborations.

Eteakol Operating Model

Furthermore, Eteakol's emphasis on sustainable tea producing methods  aligns with the growing global demand for sustainable and environmentally friendly products. By listing tea producers promoting organic farming practices, Eteakol supports the preservation of biodiversity, safeguards the health of ecosystems, and promotes the well-being of tea growers and consumers alike. The platform serves as a catalyst for discovery and sourcing of ethically produced teas, encouraging producers  and buyers alike to prioritize ecological balance, sustainability and fair trade within the tea industry.

In conclusion…

The Indian tea industry, with its rich history and diverse tea offerings, continues to thrive. The rise of small tea growers and the growing emphasis on specialty teas highlight the industry's commitment to quality and craftsmanship. With direct sourcing platforms like Eteakol, the global availability of high-quality, organic loose leaf Indian teas is expanding, providing tea buyers with the possibility to source exceptional quality teas, directly from the comfort of their office while helping the empowerment of the tea producing community. 

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