India has an incredibly rich tea culture. As a whole, Indians drinks more tea than any other nation, and India is the second greatest tea exporter after China. Indian teas exhibit a diversity to match the scale, intensity and history of the tea culture. There are teas in the medicinal, Ayurveda tradition of herbal and spice mixes, alongside production for popular consumption, as well as a great wealth of special and artisanal teas, including world-renowned teas from Darjeeling, Assam, and the beautiful mountains of the Nilgiris.

The history of tea in India goes back centuries. Early records indicate that tea has been made and consumed in India since at least the 12th century. The next records date to the colonial period, including 17th century observations of tea drinking for health purposes. During the colonial period, tea was produced on a larger scale under the imposition of the East India Trading Company. The colonial program made Indian tea production a commercial facet of the British Empire on the backs of indentured servants. It was only after India threw off colonial bonds and achieved independence that the Plantation Act was signed into law, a first step to improving the conditions of workers on tea plantations.

Though tea was already native to India, Robert Fortune is acknowledged to have stimulated the growth of varieties of tea plant native to China in the mid-19th century. Sent by the East India Company to spy on Chinese production methods, he smuggled plants out of China against Chinese law, and, with them, also brought back secrets of the oxidization process used to make black teas. The varietals from China remain a source of more delicate Indian teas, like those from Darjeeling, whereas the native varietals, commonly associated with the Assam region, produce a stronger leaf.

Today, India’s tea culture is extremely diverse, as befits a nation of India’s size and long history with tea. India’s tradition of Ayurveda has long led the way for herbal tea drinks, including for health and medicinal purposes. And while India has been a major source of tea using the Cut-Tear-Curl technique for the cut up leaves used in tea bags, it is home to diverse artisans and innovators producing small batches of orthodox, whole-leaf teas.

In general, Indian teas remain recognized for a bold, robust character. The powerful Indian teas are still regularly drunk with milk, a typical way of drinking tea in India. The famous chai teas, mixed with spices, are one example.  But Indian orthodox teas – like our selection from the Nilgiris – can be as subtle as they are flavorful, and exquisite on their own. India is most famous for its black teas, but we think you may fall in love with the distinct flavors of Indian green teas as well!