India White Tea Production Expands to Assam

By Pullock Dutta

JORHAT, Assam

The best-known gardens in India producing white tea are in Darjeeling in the far north and in the southern Nilgiri Mountains.

Taking an inspiration from the royal Chinese tradition, Raj Barooah, director of Aideobari Tea Estate is developing unique white teas in Assam. His teas are modeled on the most famous, and most expensive, white teas which originated in China’s Fujian Province.

China bush

In Darjeeling, which is largely planted in high-grown C. Sinensis-sinensis, spring buds are plucked in the first days of the flush. The made tea is known for its floral fragrance, displaying notes of lavender, citrus, and geranium. In the Nilgiris white teas are made in the winter months from December through February. The fuzz-covered buds produce a more fruity than floral tea, with notes of tropical papaya. Estates like Billimalai produce a winter flush and a frost white tea. Brands like Avataa sell for INRs400-550 ($6.25 to $8.50) for a 50-gram tin in the domestic market and are available overseas. In the U.S. and Canada, where the same tea sells for $20 to $25 online.

In September white tea was for the first time auctioned at Guwahati Tea Auction center. The handcrafted tippy tea from Donyi Polo garden in East Siang district fetched INRs 2,565  ($39.95) a kilo, beating the previous record of INRs 2,501 ($38.90) held by Deha tea garden of Jorhat district in Upper Assam, according to the Calcutta Telegraph.

Aideobari harvests its tea buds from C. Sinensis-assamica. Barooah has developed two varieties of white tea – Silky Silver Needle and Bai Mu Dan Assamica – which are now available online at www.rujanitea.com. His Rujani silver needle was launched in October 2016 and sells for INRs400 for 50 grams. The BaiMuDan Bliss Assamica was made available only recently. It sells for INRs300 $4.65 for 50 grams.

The Bai Mu Dan Assamica is made of young tea leaves and silvery unopened leaf buds, explains Barooah.

“Bai Mu Dan is a mild white tea made from one bud and two immediate young leaves. A mild peony floral aroma is noticed when brewing the tea. The presence of leaves makes the body a bit more robust (and the liquor darker) than some other white teas like Silver Needles with a bolder flavour,” he said.

The Silky Silver Needle also known as Bai Hao Yinzhen, which is produced from the picked leaf shoots (the buds). “This is the most expensive and highly valued white tea as only the tops of the buds of the tea tree produce silver needles. The variety is in good demand,” he said.

Barooah said that he has witnessed in despair the grand commoditization of tea in Assam and in India. Tea lovers that he has met across the world talked about the intricacies of other variants of tea but never about his native teas from Assam. After travelling to all the major tea growing regions of the world, Barooah developed his own manufacturing techniques and protocols.

“The vision of Rujani is to give to the world’s tea lovers the most exquisitely and finely crafted teas,” he said.

Apart from the two varieties of white tea, Rujani also sells green as well as black handcrafted tea.

White tea was originally intended for the Chinese emperor alone. It was highly prized for its subtle aroma and was considered a magical, life-prolonging drink. It is still highly valued in China even today.

White teas there are priced form INRs 8,000 to 12,000 ($125 to $185) per kilo. Made only from the unopened buds and young leaves of the tea plant Camellia sinensis, its brew is light and delicate with a slightly sweet flavour. It is fine plucked at an opportune moment, either at the start or at the end of the season and is the least processed of all teas, he explained.

Barooah said that before entering his tea in competition at the Hong Kong International Food Fair last year, he knew there would be some resistance, but once people tasted it, their impression would change.  “Assam white tea has its own place and I would like to take it forward,” he said.

The production of white tea in India is nominal but demand is growing. Bhutan also produces a limited amount of white tea and the Doomni tea garden in Baksa district in Assam is making a name for itself. The Tara tea estate in Meghalaya, bordering Assam also sells a white tea under the La Kyrsiew brand, and has received good response from customers.

Source: Rujani Tea, Calcutta Telegraph