india’s tea tourists: tea lovers unite and say hello! to tea tourism

This piece on India and tea tourism was written by Meera Dattani and published in NRI in April this year (and is reproduced with her permission).  Meera has the kind of job that I truly covet, traveling and writing professionally, all the while covering topics like tea, food and travel.  You can read her travel writing here or follow her on Twitter, she is  @no_fixed_plans

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India’s Tea Tourists: Tea lovers unite.  If you love this warming beverage as much as the homeland, could tea tourism holiday in India be the answer?

street chai, chai tea, indian chai

Street Chai in India - photo creative commons by adam valvasori via flickr

Chai, cha, a brew, tea, a cuppa… whatever you call it, tea is big in our culture. We mock the UK soap opera EastEnders for always surrendering to tea in times of stress, but we Indians are the same. No sooner have you stepped into someone’s house and the familiar offer of ‘chai, pani?’ (Tea, water?) is made, before the familiar aroma of tea leaves, chai masala and steamed milk floats out of the kitchen.

So what is it about tea that makes it so special? Warming, comforting, sharing, soothing, caffeine boost – they’re some of the words various friends and family members came up with when asked. Indians generally enjoy our tea with milk and sugar. It’s not known how this taste developed, whether it originated during British rule or whether Indians passed on their love for cow’s milk to the British.

Add to that growing evidence that tea contains cancer fighting antioxidants, and with the caffeine-free options of green and herbal tea growing in number and popularity, it’s no wonder we are drinking more and more of our beloved beverage.

 chai tea, indian chai

chai tea - creative commons by mikhail esteves via flickr

For me, a freshly made mug of warmly spiced, slightly sweet Indian chai is one of life’s simplest yet most rewarding offerings. Non-tea-drinkers find this almost ludicrous, but only a true tea addict knows the comfort a cuppa can bring!

And now, unsurprisingly, India itself has a thriving tea tourism industry. Tea cultivation bloomed under the British Empire and now India is the world’s largest tea exporter. There are around 1500 different teas in the world, produced by 25 different countries including China, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. So it’s not surprising that tourism has followed suit.

darjeeling tea estate

darjeeling tea estate - creative commons by surya sen via flickr

Like the wine regions of Europe and the coffee plantations of Central America, India’s tea estates offer similar tour and holidays, with package holidays to Assam, Darjeeling in West Bengal and other renowned tea-producing regions like Munnar in Kerala, Palampur in Himachal Pradesh and Ooty in Tamil Nadu.

And why not? If you love wine, you visit a vineyard, beer lovers flock to breweries, so if you love tea, a holiday on a tea estate seems an equally logical and fun choice, learning about its heritage, how it’s grown and tastings. Often combined with yoga,  spa or eco tourism, tea estates offer peaceful, relaxing stays amid jaw-dropping hillside scenery – not to mention the chance to binge on your favourite brew all day long…

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