The Nilgiris district is located in the southern part of India. The name is Tamil and means "Blue Mountains." It ranges in altitude from 900 meters to 2600 meters and supports a broad range of agriculture products.
Tea, however, is the backbone of the local economy. Experimental tea plantings began in 1835 and the first commercial tea plantation was founded in 1854 with seeds from China.
The first European to reach the area was a Portuguese priest in 1602. Afterwards, two centuries passed before Europeans paid much attention to the Nilgiris. English surveyors began exploring the area in the early 19th century and once European-like climate of the Nilgiris was known Western interest was piqued.
By the mid-19th century the area had become a popular summer resort and eventually the entire Madras government moved here during the summer months. Several towns in the Nilgiris have a distinct British feel and parts of the countryside resemble southern Britain.
The first tea plantations were a commercial success and by the end of the 19th century more than 3000 acres of tea were growing on several hundred plantations. Today there are more than 100,000 acres of tea growing in the area.
The tropical climate of the Nilgiris makes the area much more productive than Darjeeling. Even though the two areas have similar acreages of tea, the Nilgiris produce four times more tea than Darjeeling.
Tea is picked year round but the best tea is produced during the dry season from December to March. Much of Nilgiri tea destined for local Indian consumption and is processed using the Crush-Tear-Curl (CTC) method of production. This tea is reasonably priced and is often used in spiced tea called Masala Chai.
More expensive whole-leaf Nilgiri tea is finding its way to Western markets where it is valued for its fragrance and taste. These teas are produced by the Orthodox method which partially accounts for their higher price. Another part comes from the versatile nature of Nilgiri tea which makes it popular with tea drinkers of all levels of experience.
Nilgiri teas are becoming known as some of the world's finest black teas. The best teas have a hint of fruit and a smoothness that makes them nearly impossible to over-steep. They can be served black or with milk and sugar.