Tea has a long history in India, with historical accounts indicating that it was drunk by 750 BC. Today, masala chai, an aromatic and delightfully spicy blend, may first come to mind when thinking of Indian teas. But India joins China as one of the world's top producers of tea—from black tea that forms the base of chai and other aroma blends to fine Assams and exquisite Darjeelings.
Assam, a state in northeastern India, features rivers and river valleys, plains and mountains—and is the world’s largest tea-producing region. The Camellia sinensis var. assamica variety is native to this region, and this robust variety is typically used to produce strong, black teas. The first tea company was established in Assam in 1839.
The first harvest, or the first flush, begins in February. The May–June second-flush harvest, however, yields the highest-grade Assam teas, characterized by a full-bodied, spicy and malty flavor.
TeaHaus offers three Assam teas: Mangalam, Mokalbari, and the premium Marangi. Hearty Assam tea is also blended with Indonesian tea to create East Frisian Blend, a northern Germany favorite that is enjoyed with rock sugar and heavy cream.
Also in northeastern India, but situated on the southern slopes of the Himalaya Mountains, the world’s highest mountains, is Darjeeling—producing the Champagne of black teas. The tea gardens in this area consist of the Camellia sinensis var. sinensis variety, which was smuggled in from China in the 1800s and which thrived in the mountainous environment. At altitudes of 2,600 to over 6,500 feet, these gardens produce the highest quality of tea, processed in the orthodox method. Five harvest seasons are possible: first flush, an “in-between" harvest (that is, between the first and second flushes), second flush, monsoon, and autumnal. Darjeeling tea was accorded the first geographical indication of India, meaning that its quality is attributable to its geographic origin.
First-flush choice teas at TeaHaus include Steinthal and the premium Lingia (above); second-flush favorites are Rarity and the premium tea Risheehat. Also to be tried is Sikkim Temi, from the Temi tea garden, a neighbor to Darjeeling.
Tea gardens located in the mountains of southern India also produce black tea, and Oothu, located in a rainforest in South India, was the country’s first tea garden to adopt biodynamic tea cultivation. The smooth but intense white tea South India Oothu (right) is available at TeaHaus.