How many types of India tea can be found?
India tea types are classified in various different ways. Most commonly we classify tea on the basis of manufacturing method we use. According to this type of classification, we categorize tea into white, black, green, oolong and instant tea categories. However we segregate black and green teas into some more sub categories, mostly on the basis of the grain size.
When we use manufacturing technique as the basis of classification, then we get the following types: traditional, handmade or handcrafted and conventional. As the examples of traditional forms of tea, you can consider ‘Phalap’, which is prepared by the Singphos of Assam. ‘Leppet tea’ of the Shan tribes of Burma, which you may take as another example of traditional forms of tea. Artisans make handcrafted or handmade teas, although in a minuscule quantities at the garden level, generally for exclusive marketing.
Mode of categorization of India tea
Thus we can put Indian teas into eleven broad categories. This is based on an exhaustive analysis on the availability of various types of tea and tea products in the market. They are – conventional, traditional, indigenous handmade or handcrafted, specialty tea, organic, ready to use, flavored teas, special health teas, special blend, special single manufacture and diversified products.
The conventional category represents that type of India tea which we produce through normal production and manufacturing processes. We use the approved agro-inputs like chemical fertilizers, pesticides, weedicides, etc. Almost all part of tea growing areas in India produce this category of tea. Conventional type of tea constitutes the largest part of the tea India produces. However, the Assam, Darjeeling, Kangra Valley and Nilgiri teas come with some special characteristics which are specific to the particular area of production. Hence, Assam orthodox teas and Darjeeling teas have got protection under Geographical Indication (GI).
You will also see, season of the year has immense effect on the tea quality. This means tea’s quality varies with season. In India, we have certain main tea seasons like the first flush (spring), the second flush (summer), then the rains and the autumn flush.
When we classify tea on the basis of manufacturing process, we get different conventional types of tea like black tea, green tea and oolong. We further sort black and green teas into more grades for trade purpose, primarily on the basis of size. Then the manufactures release the tea in the market in either loose form or in blended form in packets.
Assam used to have a traditional method of manufacturing tea. Namely the Singpho tribe people in Upper Assam produced the tea for their own consumption. Even today, the Singphos manufacture the tea in a completely traditional way, which is prominently known throughout the world as ‘Phalap’. At first they partially fry the leaves in a pan, and then the tea leaves are stuffed in bamboo hollows. The Singphos then fire and preserve the tea in the bamboo hollows. Recently few innovative Singpho entrepreneurs have marketed Phalap in the form of a coin, in the name of ‘Phalap Tea Coin’!
The indigenous people of the tea growing areas of Assam, mostly small tea growers, manufacture meticulously handcrafted or handmade orthodox black or green teas. This holds true also for some commercial Darjeeling tea estates which have a niche segment in the market. These teas are also mostly organic in nature.
We can also find some very special grades of orthodox tea which are named as Silver Tips and White Tea etc. The growers specially manufacture these teas only with buds of leaf that produces tips only.
There is also scope for producing unique purple tea in Assam. You will find here in various tea plantations and in wild state, tea plants with purplish pigmentation of leaves which is due to presence of anthocyanin.
Many growers preclude the use of synthetic agro-chemicals in tea due to its damaging effect on health and environment. They use naturally produced products of biological origin, minerals and composts/vermicomposts as alternative. They adopt the Bio-dynamic concept. In this way, the organic tea growers produce all types of teas which includes black, green, orthodox and CTC teas.
Ready to use:
You will find instant tea and commonly used tea bags in this segment of ready to use tea.
Many of the manufactures of India tea add value to their products by introducing flavored tea and special health teas. They add flavor ingredients of masala (spicy mixture). These includes clove, pomegranate, cardamom, jasmine, rose, wild flowers, vanilla, black currant etc. These are added to make the flavored teas.
Special health teas:
Due to the abundantly present antioxidants, we can get numerous health benefits from tea which includes all varieties. Tea is a beverage for general wellness too. You may have seen, many manufacturers are adding certain healthy natural condiments to tea for further value addition in tea marketing. That is why we see the examples such as green/black tea blended either with tulsi, ginger, kesar, or ginseng. Some other tea condiments we often see are orange, aswagandha, lemon, mint or combos of lemon mint or fennel seeds peppermint and so on.[tulsi: Ocimum sanctum – holy basil, aswagandha: Withania somnifera]
The tea companies market blended packets that contains various grades and types of tea. These may be blends of Darjeeling, Assam, Dooars, Cachar, South Indian teas. Expert tea tasters use their experience and imagination for creation of a blend. The packaging companies make their own specific blends based on consumer feedback on taste and preference. In the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony at Oslo, a very special ‘Nobel Museum Tea Blend’ was created. In the honor of Alfred Nobel it was created with Assam orthodox and Chinese Keemun tea which was served in the grand banquet.
Special single manufacture:
The various planting materials (seed jats and clones) used in the cultivation
have distinct, intrinsic, unique quality of taste and flavor. The made tea of a particular estate reflects a combination of the characters of the various kinds of planting materials used. You will find special single manufacture tea on demand, which could be black (orthodox/CTC type) or green teas. Some of such exclusive single planting materials are TV (Tocklai Vegetative) 1, T3 E3, P 126, S3A3 of Assam, and flavory – B 157, AV 2, K 1/1 etc. of Darjeeling.
We can get diversified products of tea which are mostly available from extracts of bio-chemical constituents of tea. This shall need further research. There are more than 800 coloring and flavoring components present in tea. These components in combination give the unique color, flavor and taste to the tea. Tea scientists have successfully separated and extracted these components and have used to make tea based bakery items like tea biscuits and tea cakes.
Tea researchers have successfully utilized the antioxidant properties of green and black tea. They have used the know-how to prepare value-added products like ice cream and wine. However there is a long way to go in this direction as many of the tea researches are still in a developmental stage. Researchers have attempted several diversified products from tea which include bottled or canned tea drink, tea tablet, tea candy or tea toffee etc. Research on the scope of using tea seed oil, natural tea color and tea flavor is in various stages of progress. If the R&D on tea products goes in proper direction, we shall see many more diversified yet useful, healthy products like decaffeinated tea, tea toothpaste, tea shoot pickle, tea shoot pickle with bamboo shoot etc. in the coming days!
Article contributed by Dr. Pradip Baruah