Tea Experiences in the Nilgiris

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The Cup That Cheers

The sight of the undulating Blue Mountains, endless tea plantations and snaky roads that fork up the hill make the Nilgiri Biosphere a place like no other. Home to Ooty, Conoor and Kotagiri, these hills also have a charm that is hard to miss. The elevation also means that the Nilgiris arguably has the best teas in the South of India. Again tea in the Nilgiris is an experience that starts rights from picking the leaves to going through the whole process to finally sipping the cuppa. Here are some top picks to ensure you see the entire process that will help you appreciate the effort that goes into making the perfect cup of tea.

Dodhabetta Tea factory
Dodhabetta Tea factory

Tea Museum Ooty

The Tea Factory in Doddabetta in Ooty is also called the Tea Museum in Ooty and is one of the best places to see the complete end to end tea manufacturing process at one go. In fact very often the word CTC is associated with tea. This simply refers to the processing – Cut, Twist, Curl. The factory shows you how all these processes are done and more. This is a two-storey building that has a huge hall in the second level adorned with large posters that show both the tea making history and how this art has spread in India. In the middle there is huge machinery that shows the process of converting the harvested leaves into tea powder. The tea leaves are cut and spread out over the driers and then moved to the first floor to be cut, twisted and curled. There is a chain of 5 CTC high speed stainless steel roller machines that work in opposite directions and the tea leaves are passed through them for the CTC process. After this the tea leaves are spread out on a fermenting floor in beds where the tea leaves reacts with the oxygen that results in their colour changing from green to copper red and soon you leaves a fruity fragrance indicating that it is ready to be dried. After being dried, the leaves are passed through a Fibromat machine that helps remove the fibre in the tea and the two meshes at the end of the Fibromat machine separates the dust from the tea leaves. Post this the tea leaves are graded as according to their granular sizes and packed to be sold. And if you are wondering how some teas are given a flavour like ginger or cardamom, well it is done in the processing stage itself. Likewise green tea that has gained much acceptance for its health benefits is extracted before the fermenting process. At the end of the tour you can sample a small cup of tea for free and also shop at the little store that retails several kinds of tea. The Tea Museum, Dodabetta Tea Factory, Dodabetta Road, Ooty, The Nilgiris. Phone + 91 – 423 – 223 1679 & + 91 – 9443 055 529.

Tea estate
Tea estate

Take a Tour in a tea estate

Most of the hill side in the Nilgiris is covered with tea plants and this is arguably the best place to get an education in all things tea. And when it is done under expert guidance, the experience elevates several notches higher. A walk amidst the tea plants is quite exhilarating too. The tea plants are harvested by women in these parts and it is a common sight to see them with sacks tied around them. The tea that is picked is the top most two leaves and a bud as this is what gives tea its body and flavour. In fact various kinds of teas can be made just by the timing when the tea is picked. For instance, the famed silver tips tea is picked before sunrise! You can also try your hand at it but you will soon realize that it is impossible to match the speed and dexterity of the workers here. However as you stroll around just be mindful of flying ants that might sting you; although it is not harmful, it will cause you some discomfort.

Tea being grown in the Nilgiris
Tea being grown in the Nilgiris

Tea Factory, Coonoor

The Highfield Tea Factory in Coonoor is located amidst undulating tea gardens that offer a stunning view of the Nilgiri Biosphere. This is a 50 plus year old estate that also shows you the whole tea making cycle up close and you can also witness the entire tea processing stages at one go. Smaller than the one in Ooty, this is also a nice place that must be on your to do list on a tea trail in the Nilgiris. There is also a small cafe where you can sample fresh tea and the masala tea comes highly recommended. In fact these places are very cold and a hot piping cup of tea is exactly what the doctor ordered. The in house store also is a good place to stop by and buy some of these different kinds of teas. Coonoor-Kattabettu-Kotagiri Road, Coonoor 643231. Phone: +91-7598285985

Tea being processed
Tea being processed

Sample Gourmet Tea

If you head towards Coonoor, about 25 km away from Ooty, you can sample some great teas at organized tea tasting sessions that will need you to book them in advance. Once such experience happens at Tranquilitea, which is a gourmet tea tasting session to give you an insight into the exquisite world of fine teas. “Our highly acclaimed experience takes you on a journey through the myriad colours, aromas and flavours of some of the finest teas in the world. The tea tasting takes a little over an hour during which you are guided through the art of making fine tea followed by a tasting of some of the finest Nilgiri teas,” says owner Sandeep Subramani, whose passion for tea is unmistakable. 101 Grays Hill, Imperial Tea Company, Coonoor, Tamil Nadu 643101. Phone: 094438 41572.

Tea tasting at Tea Nest
Tea tasting at Tea Nest

Drink your tea and eat it too!

The other good place to go for a tea tasting session as well as have a tea inspired meal (yes, you read that right) is Tea Nest. With prior appointment you can taste upto six varieties of tea including Camomile Tea, green tea, Golden Tips, Organic Black tea, White tea among others. Interestingly you can also come in for a tasting of a special tea inspired menu again on prior appointment to sample some dishes like tea smoked paneer, a salad made with garden fresh vegetables with organic pickled tea leaves served with a mayonnaise and honey dip and even an Orange Pekoe tea kettle broth soup. The tea braised homemade cottage cheese marinated with garden fresh herbs, grilled and served in a tea skewer is a great starter that teams perfectly with the signature organic rosemary tea. Even the spaghetti is cooked with tea and is served with a special tea tomato sauce topped with mozzarella parsley. And yes, there is dessert too – a tea flavored custard with Nilgiri chamomile tea compote. You can also have a non vegetarian meal here. Singara Estate, Coonoor, Nilgiris. Phone: +91 8088855855. With so many experiences, are you ready to take a tea tour? Well raise a tea toast to that!

Tea leaves
Tea leaves

Fun Facts

  • Tea is derived from early Chinese words such as Tchai, Ch’s and T’e used to describe both the beverage and leaf.
  • India has the rare distinction of being both the largest producer and consumer of tea in the world.
  • In 1908, Thomas Sullivan of Boston developed the concept of ‘bagged tea’.

This story first appeared in the October 2018 issue of Tata Vistara’s inflight magazine here: Nilgiris_4pgs

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