Indian Tea

An Overview


A loose tea retail outlet in Kolkata. Exquisite and top quality Darjeeling tea cost as much as Rs 4000 per kg.

India is the second largest producer of tea (camelia sinensis), the largest consumer and the fourth largest exporter (after Sri Lanka, Kenya and China) in the world. Commercial tea production began only in the 1830's (the first shipment of Assam tea was shipped to England in 1838) although the tea plant grew wild in Assam. Tea production spread to other parts of India by the 1860's. India's current tea production (1 256 million kgs in 2020) has increased approx. fivefold from a level of 255 m kgs in 1947. Production fell from the previous year by almost 10 % largely due to flooding in Assam and Covid-19 lockdowns in place. Per capita domestic tea consumption has also grown significantly since the early 1950's figures of some 200 grams to 700 grams today although a lot less than in traditional tea markets such as Turkey, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Domestic consumption contributes to around four fifths of total tea production in India (ca 1.1 mn tons in 2019).

The major tea growing areas of India are Darjeeling (West Bengal), Terai and Dooars (West Bengal) totalling ca 140 000 heactars, Assam (ca 338 000 ha) and Nilgiri (Kerala and Tamil Nadu). Tea is also produced in smaller volumes in the states of Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttaranchal, Tripura, Manipur, Sikkim, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Bihar and Orissa totalling approx. 21 000 hectares. Tea is grown by over 200 000 small and large tea growers under a gross area of over 600 000 hectares. The tea industry employs approx. 3½ million people.

South Indian tea is grown under an area of approx. 115 000 hectares, ie. roughly one fifth of India's total (ca 566 000 ha). Tamil Nadu is the major tea growing state in South India with 76 000 hectares under tea cultivation. Kerala has 37 000 ha while Karnataka is a much smaller tea growing state with only just 2 000 ha.

Exports

Indian tea exports amounted to 208 million kilos of tea with total earnings of approx. INR 52 billion in 2020. Major buyers of Indian teas incl. Russia (37 million kg), Iran (33 m kg), UAE (12½ m kg), China (11½ m kg) and USA (11½ m kg).

Tea Producing Regions

Darjeeling

Darjeeling tea, considered the champagne of all teas, is grown exclusively in Darjeeling located in northern West Bengal. The high quality and distinct flavour and aroma of Darjeeling tea is a result of unique climate, soil, altitude and processing methods prevalent in Darjeeling. Total production amounted to 8½ million kilos in 2014. The tea gardens (87 in total) of Darjeeling cover an area of approx. 17 500 hectares and provide employment to over 50 000 labourers.

Assam

Assam tea is grown in an area of over 307 000 hectares. Assam produced 675 m kilos of tea in 2017.

Nilgiri

Terai and Dooars

Tea cultivation in the Terai and Dooars regions of West Bengal are spread over 97 000 ha accounting to a sizeable tea production of well over 200 m kilos.

Tripura

The tea industry in Tripura has existed for roughly a century producing mainly CTC (Crush Tear Curl) black tea but also other varieties such as white, green and organic teas. Tea cultivation takes up around 6 900 hectares of land in the state and processed tea production amounts to just under 9 million kilos.

Sikkim

Sikkim is a fairly newcomer to tea cultivation and overall production is at a small scale. Temi Tea Garden and a few other tea gardens produce mainly black, Oolong and green tea.

Tea Plantation Gallery


A closeup of tea leaves in a plantation in Munnar, Kerala.

A tea plantation in Munnar, Kerala. South Indian Nilgiri tea is produced here.

Planted trees amidst the tea gardens protect the delicate tea bushes from the sun.

A tea processing factory in Munnar.





















 

Tea Related Links

Tea production (2020): 1 256 million kilos
Tea production (Jan-Jun 2019): 474 m kilos
Domestic tea consumption (2016/17): 973 m kilos
Tea exports in value (2017/18): USD 786 m
Average export tea price/kg (2011-12): Rs 154
Tea exports 2015/16 (million kgs): 233
Tea imports 2013-14 (million kgs): 19

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Videos

Munnar Tea Gardens

Munnar is a major tea growing area in the state of Kerala. 16 tea plantations in Munnar occupy around 8 500 hectares (85 km²) of land. The tea plantations are owned by Kanan Devan Hills Plantations Company. Tata Tea has a minority stake in the company. An instant tea factory is also located in Munnar.

© Timir Mozumder