Indians love a good cup of tea (chai) and India is one of the largest tea growers in the world. However, over 70% of it is consumed by Indians themselves. The production of tea really took off during the days of British rule in India, when large tracts of land were converted for mass tea production. If you're a tea lover, don't miss visiting these places where you'll find the best India tea plantations and tea. You can even stay on a tea estate and tour the tea factories.
Darjeeling, West Bengal
Darjeeling, as well as being one of India's most popular hill stations, is surrounded by tea plantations that produce prized light colored, floral smelling tea. Around 25% of India's total tea output comes from Darjeeling.
- Where to Go: The Happy Valley Tea Estate is located just north of town and offers the only guided tea factory tour in Darjeeling. The estate grows some of the finest tea in the region and has a long history. It was established by an Englishman in 1850, later taken over by an Indian aristocrat from Kolkata, abandoned and closed in 2005, and acquired by the Ambootia Tea Group in March 2007. Guided tours are conducted from 9.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. daily. Stay at elegant Glenburn Tea Estate, about an hour northeast of Darjeeling, for an unforgettable gastronomical experience. Makaibari Tea Estate, about an hour south of Darjeeling near Kurseong, is also noteworthy and offers homestay accommodations with local villagers.
- When to Go: March to November for tea plucking, but the monsoon season from June to September is best avoided.
Assam, Northeast India
Assam, located in India's remote northeast, is the largest tea producing region in the country. Mostly grown in the Brahmaputra Valley, malty Assamese tea is brightly colored. Jorhat, in the central part of the valley, is often referred to as the "Tea Capital of the World".
Where to Go:
- Stay at Banyan Grove on Gatoonga Tea Estate, near Jorhat. Built more than 100 years ago, it has colonial style and seven guest rooms. You'll be able to get a feel for what it's like to live on a tea estate, as well as visit the factory and see how tea is made.
- Thengal Manor heritage hotel is another option in Jorhat.
- Alternatively, Wild Mahseer offers newly refurbished historic tea planter bungalows on the banks of the Brahmaputra River amidst Addabarie Tea Estate, near Tezpur in Assam.
Take a Tour: The Greener Pastures offers tea tours to Assam.
When to Go: Mid May to June end, for the best tea. Tea production continues until early December, but the quality of the tea steadily decreases. A Tea Festival is held in Jorhat every November.
As you enter Munnar, a popular hill station in Kerala, you'll be greeted by miles upon miles of lush tea plantations. Once owned by Tata, the largest tea manufacturing company in India, they've now been sold to employees.
- Where to Go: Head to India's first Tea Museum at Nallathanni Estate to take a fascinating look at the history of tea production in Munnar. It's open daily, except Mondays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The cost is 125 rupees for adults. Stay at The Tea Harvester, a peaceful new boutique resort surrounded by tea plantations. Tea estate tours northeast. Dream Catcher Plantation Resort (with four stunning tree houses nestled into the tea plantations) and Gruenberg Tea Plantation Haus are also recommended.
- When to Go: The tourist season is from August to May, although winters are very cold during December and January.
Kolukkumalai, Tamil Nadu
Just across the border from Kerala, at 8,000 feet above sea level, Kolukkumalai Tea Estate is perhaps the highest tea plantation in the world. The tea grown there is known to have a unique aroma and taste because of the high altitude. Although it's located only about 32 kilometers (20 miles) from Munnar town, it takes around 2 hours to reach this isolated destination via Suryanelli in Kerala's Idukki district due to the rugged terrain. The final part of the journey can only be undertaken by jeep. It's a Teapicturesque drive though. The tea estate was founded by the British in the early 1900s, and its factory still uses the original orthodox method of tea processing. It's possible to visit it on a day trip. However, for the best experience, stay at least one night on the property in the guesthouse or mountain hut.
Nilgiri Mountains, Tamil Nadu
The mountainous Nilgiri district of Tamil Nadu, in south India, is known for its distinctive dark and intensely aromatic tea. Tea has been grown there for more than 100 years, and is the most important industry in the region.
- Where to Go: Coonoor is an excellent place to discover Nilgiri tea. Start at the Highfield Tea Factory, near Sim's Park (or if you wish, Homedale is a much quieter option). From there, stop by the Tranquilitea Tea Lounge to try some exotic teas. They also offer plantation tours and accommodations in plantation bungalows. Otherwise, stay in Coonoor at the delightful Tea Nest on Singara Tea Estate. Go there on the renowned Nilgiri Mountain Railway toy train. If you really want to get away from it all, O'land Plantation Stay is recommended. It's about 45 minutes south of Coonoor.
- Take a Tour: Breakaway offers this Blue Mountains and High Tea trip from Coimbatore to Coonoor and back. Your host, a tea planter, will share his knowledge with you. You'll also get to visit a farm stay that makes cheese.
- When to Go: Tea is produced throughout the year in Nilgiri. However, the best teas are produced during the cooler winter months (late November to mid-February).
Wayanad, a lush mountainous agricultural area of Kerala, also produces a significant amount of tea (in addition to coffee and spices). Most of the tea plantations are located south of Kalpetta, in Vythiti and Meppadi. The road to Chembra Peak will take you through a private estate, which is worth a look.
Visit and stay at:
- Parisons Plantation Experiences. This serene property has two luxuriously remodeled bungalows with a total of 10 bedrooms, situated on a 4,025-acre tea estate with a 200-year-old history. Activities include tea tours, visits to tea factories, trekking on various tea trails, and afternoons at the Planters Club.
- Tea Terrace has attractive cottages set amid a tea plantation in Vythiri.
- Tea Route Homestay is popular at Meppadi.
- Wayanad Tea Drops has a two bedroom cottage on sprawling Chellotte Tea Estate in Chundale. It's ideal for families and friends.
- Priyadarshini Tea Environs (Mananthavady Tribal Plantation Corporative Society) is a community tourism initiative. The estate has a tea factory, tea museum, accommodations, and activities for tourists.
- When to Go: September through to April, to avoid the monsoon rain.
Palampur, Himachal Pradesh
Tea was introduced to Palampur, about an hour from Dharamsala in the Kangra Valley of Himachal Pradesh, in the mid 19th century by the Superintendent of Botanical Gardens in Peshawar, Doctor Jameson.
Where to Go:
- Palampur Cooperative Tea Factory welcomes visitors and offers factory tours.
- Wah Tea Estate is the northeast working tea estate in the Kangra Valley. It's been in business since 1857 and survived the earthquake in 1905, which seriously disrupted tea cultivation in the area. The tea produced there is organic and 100% pesticide free. Stay at The Lodge at Wah, a new eco-friendly boutique homestay on the property. It has eight rooms in three gorgeous, rustic cottages. Tea plantation and factory tours, and tea tastings are provided to guests.
- Other recommended options on tea estates in Palampur are Country Cottage Tea Garden Resort and Norwood Green.
When to Go: March to June and mid-September to November, for the best weather. Tea is plucked between April and October.