Nilgiri tea is generally described as being a dark, intensely aromatic, fragrant and flavourful tea grown in the southern portion of the Western Ghats mountains of Southern India. It is grown in the hills of the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu, though there are numerous other tea districts in South India as well, including Munnar and Central Travancore, further south in Kerala state.
Nilgiri tea plantations are represented by the Nilgiri Planters' Association, which is an organizational member of the United Planters Association of South India (UPASI), headquartered in Coonoor. UPASI is the peak body representing plantation owners in South India. However, plantations only account for around 30% of tea production in Nilgiri District. The vast majority of production is undertaken by small growers, who typically own less than one hectare each. The majority of Nilgiri tea small growers are Badagas people, a local community of agriculturists.
Tea plantations in Nilgiri District (as in other growing districts of India) typically own and operate their own processing factories. Small growers sell their tea as green leaf to "bought leaf factories", which are independently owned. (Although in recent years, some plantation factories have started buying green leaf from small growers) After processing (which converts the green leaf into 'made tea'), most is sold through regularly scheduled auctions in Coonoor, Coimbatore and Kochi. More than 50% of Nilgiri tea is exported, and usually finds its way into blends used for tea bags.