In our quest to find unusual, exquisite teas we've been spending time this month in the region of Kangra in India's north-west this week.
Kangra Valley (known locally as "Valley of the Gods") is one of India's smallest tea growing regions and often overlooked. It's not as well known as Darjeeling or even Nepal but tea gardens here benefit from the same high altitude conditions.
Kangra lies at the foothills of the snow-capped peaks of the Dhauladhar mountain range (part of the Himalayas) in the state of Himachal Pradesh at a high altitude of 4000-6000 ft. It's an area surrounded by pine forests, and dotted with rushing streams and lakes.
Tea was first planted here in the mid 1800s on estates owned by British, European and local planters. A small, thriving industry soon took shape, with Kangra tea winning numerous awards for its quality. Disaster struck in 1905 when a devastating earthquake ripped through the region.
The hardy tea plant- mostly the Chinese variety (the Camellia sinensis sinensis) had taken deep root by this time and started to regrow. Slowly planters, mostly small-scale, returned to the area but the tea industry has remained in the shadows and never quite regained its former glory.
Today several tea producers are striving to improve the quality of tea here. We were particularly impressed with a hand-rolled oolong style tea made by a small garden on the outskirts of Dharamshala. It's fir green coloured crumpled leaves are left to wither and then hand-rolled to give vivacious, creamy and fresh floral notes. It's truly delicious.
Try Kangra hand-rolled oolong here.