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What Is Nilgiri Tea?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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The black tea nilgiri is a mild and dark blend with few astringent tones. It hails from the Ghats Mountains and other high-altitude regions of coastal Southwest India. Most farmers who process nilgiri tea utilize a crush, tear and curl (CTC) method of cultivation, which promotes economical brewing. One of the most renowned and distinctive members of this family of black teas is called orange pekoe, though the Darjeeling black tea made in India's Darjeeling region of Bengal, eclipses most others in popularity.

Most who grow, process and sell nilgiri tea use the broad-leafed assamica strain of the Chinese tea plant Camellia sinensis, grown throughout South India — a region also known as the Nilgiris. Darjeeling growers, on the other hand, are more apt to use a sinensis strain with much smaller leaves. About two-thirds of all nilgiri growers are small homesteads; many harvest nilgiri throughout the year, as it is the only India black tea with year-log cultivation.

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Black varieties like nilgiri tea are processed by the CTC method, which is typically an acronym for crush, tear and curl, but can also mean "cut, twist and curl." Invented in the early 1930s, the method is widely established in 2011 throughout Asia and Africa for manufacturing black teas like nilgiri. Instead of the old method of merely rolling the nilgiri tea leaves, CTC involves rolling the leaves onto jagged rollers that, as the name implies, either crush, tear and curl — or cut twist and curl — the leaves until ready for final drying and brewing.

The CTC method makes all black tea easier to brew and spreads it across more cups. When full leaves are used, the product is orange pekoe; other partially intact leaves are used for what is called "broken orange pekoe." With nilgiri tea the high altitude of its cultivators and the ample rainfall they receive get the credit for its mildly acidic flavor. It is considered a strong, singular flavor, comparable to none other for its light mellow tones. Its orange coloring is fairly characteristic of most Indian black teas.

Just 1 tsp (2.7 g) of processed nilgiri tea is needed for each brewed cup. Water at a rolling boil should be allowed to steep with the tea for as long as five minutes. Some add sugar and milk to the final product; others believe the flavor is sufficiently flavorful to drink it straight, inhaling the nilgiri's aroma between sips.

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