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The final major tea-producing region of India is Nilgiri. Unlike Assam and Darjeeling teas, which are both grown in the North-Eastern arm of India, Nilgiri tea is grown in the South-Eastern point in the hills of the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu province. The history of tea in the Nilgiris district is somewhat less robust in comparison with that of Assam and Darjeeling, but the region is indisputably important to India’s tea production and the teas produced there retain a range of recognizably “Nilgiri” flavor characteristics. At least half of all tea grown in Nilgiri is exported, and the vast majority of tea is grown by small farms and sold to separately-owned factories for processing. Nilgiri tea’s highland-grown leaves produce dark amber liquor and characteristics that are roughly describable as between those of Assam and Darjeeling.

We carry two Nilgiri blacks at Miro Tea; I chose our Corsley Estate Nilgiri–like both Darjeelings and Assams, each Nilgiri is usually named for the estate of its origin. As you can see in the picture, this tea has the largest, most complete leaves of the three teas featured so far. A larger leaf profile is generally referred to as “Orange Pekoe” (pronounced peck-oh), usually abbreviated OP, or BOP if the leaves are more “Broken.” A piece of leaf stem is also visible in the dry leaves–the occasional by-product of machine processing and sorting.

After I added hot water to the leaves, a powerful woody, honey-like aroma emerged from the cup. Tasting the liquor, I found a very comforting blend of honey sweetness (reminiscent very much of honey’s distinct flavor, as opposed to the experience of consuming honey) and a mellow, fleeting plum-like overtone. My overall instinct was to contrast this tea with the Satrupa Marangi Assam–this Nilgiri posesses a thinner liquor with a lighter mouth feel, none of the sharp notes of the Assam (much more rounded), and a noticeable drop in complexity. I also noticed that the tea’s aftertaste was really present on the breath, but wasn’t nearly as lasting as that of the Darjeeling I tasted, disappearing quickly until being renewed by another sip. This is a really pleasing tea to drink, but doesn’t really posses the kind of depth that necessitates close attention. These characteristics make Nilgiris great morning and everyday teas, because they’re always pleasant and won’t be spoiled if you have to concentrate on something else while you’re drinking them. Tney also make excellent iced teas–the round, malty sweetness of black tea, without the potential harshness that can be found in Assams makes for perfect iced tea.


How time flies! Sometimes we get so busy taking care of store business that I have trouble finding time to keep up my promised blog entries before they’re overdue! Though they could have been more evenly-spaced throughout the month, today I’ll present Darjeeling and Nilgiri Indian Black Teas to finish (just under the wire) our celebration of Indian black teas.

Many people have at least heard the word “Darjeeling,” even if they haven’t tried Darjeeling’s world-famous teas. Darjeelings have been the subject of many mildly specious metaphors, such as “the champagne of teas,” or the “connoisseur’s black tea.” The fact is: tea is not wine, but Darjeeling black tea is an utterly unique tea genre that is certainly worthy of observant appreciation and the international renown it has generated. Like Assam teas, Darjeelings were first cultivated in the mid-1800’s by British expatriates. However, the similarities end there: Unlike Assams, Darjeelings are grown in the mountains of West Bengal province, and the tea plants used originated in China. Because of this combination, Darjeelings tend to be much lighter in body and complex in flavor than the lowland-grown Assam teas.

Darjeelings are also unique because of their leaf appearance–rather than a more or less uniformly black coloration, Darjeelings often contain a number of silver and green leaves, due to the “not-quite-full” oxidation that the leaves receive during processing, which surely contributes to their lightness and complexity when brewed. Darjeeling teas are produced by tea gardens known as “estates,” and the name of a particular Darjeeling is almost always the name of the estate. Following the estate name is usually an indicator of which “flush” the tea is–that is, when the tea was harvested. Generally, there are three primary harvests–First flush (produced in March at the end of the rains), Second Flush (produced during June), and Autumn Flush (produced–you guessed it–in autumn, after the second rain season). Flavor-wise, the flushes go from lightest, subtlest and most delicate to darker, fuller-bodied, and less delicate as time progresses, and earlier-harvested teas are usually less expensive. Really, though, it’s all a matter of taste–I tend to prefer Second Flush Darjeelings, even though they may not get the most attention.

The tea I chose for tasting is our new Makaibari Estate First Flush. The above picture demonstrates well the beautiful, varied appearance of the leaves. I steeped this one for 2.5 minutes using 190º water–I find a lower temperature of water produces a more subtle cup when it comes to Darjeeling, and too long of a steeping time will bring out a biting bitterness. The first sensation I experienced when drinking this tea was warming–I felt heat rush to my mouth and throat as soon as the tea touched my lips. After swallowing, I noticed a slight, pleasant bitterness in the back of my mouth, as well as an astringency that I often find in First Flush Darjeelings. The wet leaves (you can see in the picture that they’ve retained their varied coloration, unlike the Satrupa Marangi’s fully-oxidized golden buds) put off an inviting aroma of sweet leather and blackberries, and the tea’s liquor translates these aromas into a gentle, sweet-and-dry berry flavor and a much more subdued showing of that leathery characteristic. It’s also important to note that most true Darjeelings (Darjeelings, like most famous tea types are often faked!) share a similar flavor profile, dubbed “muscatel” by Darjeeling fans. The word is borrowed from wine tasting. Although I’m slightly unconvinced that there’s a strong connection between wine’s flavor profile and Darjeeling teas’, I’m absolutely sure that the so-called “muscatel” flavor is a primary draw for Darjeelings inasmuch as it’s unique and inviting in its complexity. The final characteristic that strikes me about this tea is its lingering aftertaste, which really didn’t occur with the other two Indian blacks I tried.

We carry two First Flush Darjeelings and one each of Second and Autumn Flushes, so if you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by and see for yourself what makes these teas so special!


Assam teas (named for the north-eastern Indian state of their origin) are special for a number of reasons. Firstly, Assam is one of only two regions in the world with documented native tea plants (the other, more well-known area is Southern China). Interestingly, the tea plants found growing in Assam are actually an entirely different varietal of the camellia sinensis plant–camellia sinensis assamica, as opposed to the Chinese camellia sinensis sinensis. The Assamese tea plants generally produce large leaves with malty, earthier flavors than the more flowery Chinese variety. The other interesting thing about Assam teas is that they are best grown in the lowlands–unlike Nilgiris and Darjeelings, which are hill- and mountain-grown (not to mention most Chinese and Taiwanese teas, which are also ideally grown at higher elevation). Assam has a lot of floodplain terrain with rich soil that the Assamese tea plants seem to like the best.

In general, Assam teas are strong, robust, malty, and full-bodied. You may not know it, but there’s a good chance you’re already familiar with Assam tea–it’s a staple ingredient in most English Breakfast tea blends. Because of their potent characteristics, Assam teas stand up well to milk and also often benefit from a little sugar.

The Assam I picked to taste is the Satrupa Marangi Estate Assam. We acquired this one fairly recently. One of our most discerning Assam fans recently told me that this tea “perfectly sums up all of the characteristics” he looks for in an Assam. Not bad! As you can sea in the picture above, the tea is mostly composed of dark brown leaves (usually about half a centimeter in length–at most). There are also a number of lighter leaves in the mix–these are leaf buds, and are usually referred to as “tips,” when it comes to Indian black teas. Usually, the tippier a tea is, the sweeter it will taste, since the leaf buds are more tender, delicate, and younger.

I brewed 2.5 grams of Satrupa Marangi Assam in a 120 ml competition brewing set for 4 minutes with boiling water. A quick sniff of the wet leaves revealed a richly woody aroma with plenty of strength. As you can see in the photo on the right, the tips, which were obvious in the dry leaf photo have mostly disappeared and the wet leaves are a homogeneous dark brown, thanks to the complete oxidation they underwent during processing. The same woody aroma is present in the liquor, but it’s less intense and is also accompanied with notes of caramel. It’s also worth noting (especially in comparison with the two other teas I’ll be writing about) that the liquor is a very dark amber.

Tasting this tea, the first sensations I felt were in the form of tingling in the top of my mouth and back of my throat. Yes, Assams are unquestionably powerful! After swallowing, the tingling eased off and my mouth filled with a malty, mildly astringent and simultaneously sweet-and-bitter aftertaste. Exhaling a little, I could taste some hints of another flavor, somewhat akin to the woodiness in the aroma–something leathery, or like fresh tobacco. This tea definitely packs a good deal of complexity with its rather large punch. The strength and bitterness may be a little overpowering for some (especially people used to hunting the complexities out of milder and subtler teas), but they do have a great upside–if you add milk or cream and sugar, the tea’s character and complexity remain largely intact and are complemented rather than covered up. If you’re a fan of milk and sugar in your tea, I can wholeheartedly recommend our Satrupa Marangi Assam as a great candidate for a creamy and delicious cup.

Next up we’ll be moving on to the mountains not far from Assam and to some of black tea’s most exquisite pleasures, Darjeeling blacks!


Since Chinese Green Tea month ran long, we’re now celebrating Indian Black Teas through September. This means the usual:

  • 15% off all Indian Black Teas–by the cup and pot, as well as bulk!
  • Many teas will be on clearance. Since we reduced our menu, we have stock of a number of discontinued teas that is on sale for 50% off–two ounces for the price of one! This includes a number of high-quality Assams and Darjeelings.
  • I’ll be sharing a few of our finest Indian black teas via tasting notes on this blog.
  • Informational handouts will be available in Miro Tea.
  • Free loose samples will be available in-store for customers to try at home!

A bit of background for those unfamiliar with the specifics of tea in India: Official reports of native assamica tea plants date back to at least the 1500’s, but widespread cultivation and production of tea only began in the 1830’s when the British lost their monopoly on tea trade with China and opportunistic businessmen began the first tea plantations designed to accommodate burgeoning demand for tea in Britain. Tea production expanded over the next two centuries to the point that India at one time surpassed China as the world’s largest tea producer. Today, the three most famous and prolific tea-producing regions in India are Assam, Darjeeling (both of which are located in the northeastern, spindly part of India seen in the map) and Nilgiri, which is located in the mountains of the southeastern portion of India’s tip. Many consider Sri Lankan teas (also archaically known as “Ceylon” teas) as Indian, but for Indian black tea month we’ll stick to India as commonly understood by international treaties! More will be said about each region (hopefully including some tasting notes, time permitting).