Indians love a good cup of tea (chai) and India is one of the largest tea growers in the world. However, over 70% of it is consumed by Indians themselves. The production of tea really took off during the days of British rule in India, when large tracts of land were converted for mass tea production. If you're a tea lover, don't miss visiting these places where you'll find the best India tea plantations and tea. You can even stay on a tea estate and tour the tea factories.
Darjeeling, as well as being one of India's most popular hill stations, is surrounded by tea plantations that produce prized light coloured, floral smelling tea. Around 25% of India's total tea output comes from Darjeeling.
- Where to Go: The Happy Valley Tea Estate is located around 3 kilometers north of town. The estate grows some of the finest tea in Darjeeling, and has a long history. It was established by an Englishman in 1854, and later taken over by an Indian aristocrat from Kolkata. At 2,750 meters above sea level, it's one of the highest tea gardens in the world. It's open Tuesday to Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Stay at the boutique Glenburn Tea Estate for an unforgettable gastronomical experience.
- When to Go: March to November for tea plucking, but the monsoon season from June to September is best avoided.
Assam, located in India's remote north east, is the largest tea producing region in the country. Mostly grown in the Brahmaputra Valley, malty Assamese tea is brightly colored. Jorhat, in the central part of the valley, is often referred to as the "Tea Capital of the World".
- Where to Go: Stay at Banyan Grove on Gatoonga Tea Estate, near Jorhat. Built more than 100 years ago, it has colonial style and seven guest rooms. You'll be able to get a feel for what it's like to live on a tea estate, as well as visit the factory and see how tea is made.
- Take a Tour: The Greener Pastures offers a five night Aromas of Tea tour, to Dibrugarh and Jorhat.
- When to Go: Mid May to June end, for the best tea. Tea production continues until early December, but the quality of the tea steadily decreases. A Tea Festival is held in Jorhat every November.
As you enter Munnar, a popular hill station in Kerala, you'll be greeted by miles upon miles of lush tea plantations. Once owned by Tata, the largest tea manufacturing company in India, they've now been sold to employees.
- Where to Go: Head to India's first Tea Museum at Nallathanni Estate to take a fascinating look at the history of tea production in Munnar. It's open daily, except Mondays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit Kundale Tea Plantation, surrounding a lake, to witness the entire tea making process. Stay at The Tea Sanctuary, a series of refurbished old colonial bungalows in the middle of a huge ex-Tata tea estate.
- When to Go: The tourist season is from August to May, although winters are very cold during December and January.
4. Nilgiri Mountains
The mountainous Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu, in south India, is known for its distinctive dark and intensely aromatic tea. Tea has been grown there for more than 100 years, and is the most important industry in the region.
- Where to Go: Conoor is an excellent place to discover Nilgiri tea. Start at the Highfield Tea Factory, around 1 kilometer from Sim's Park (or if you wish, Homedale is a much quieter option). From there, stop by the Tranquilitea Tea Lounge to try some exotic teas. Stay in Conoor at the delightful Tea Nest on Singara Tea Estate. Get there by taking a ride on the renowned Nilgiri Mountain Railway toy train.
- Take a Tour: Breakaway offers this Blue Mountains and High Tea trip from Coimbatore to Coonoor and back. Your host, a tea planter, will share his knowledge with you. You'll also get to visit a farm stay that makes cheese.
- When to Go: Tea is produced throughout the year in Nilgiri. However the best teas are produced during the cooler winter months (late November to mid February).
Wayanad, a lush mountainous agricultural area of Kerala, also produces a significant amount of tea (in addition to coffee and spices). Most of the tea plantations are located south of Kalpetta. The road to Chembra Peak will take you though a private estate, which is worth a look.
- Where to Go: Visit and stay at Wayanad Tea County. This unique tourist guesthouse is set in the Priyadarsini Tea Estate at Mananthavady, and is run by a co-operative of tribals who live and work on the estate. All profits earned go directly to their welfare. It's possible to go trekking through the tea gardens to a tribal tree house, set up at the highest point of the plantation. Magical!
- When to Go: September through to April, to avoid the monsoon rain.