Assam Tea: an Introduction to these malty teas
Let us give you an introduction to Assam tea. It is from Assam Province’s Brahamaptra valley of northern India. Assam teas are renown for their strength, body and maltiness and have a real depth of taste that is becoming increasingly appealing to those who demand flavour in their tea. They generally have more subtleness and finesse than the tangy, strong teas of East Africa so are therefore traditionally added to blends to give maltiness and body, but in limited quantities as they are more expensive.
The malty character of Assam teas
We offer several large leaf orthodox teas from Assam including a few second flush teas which have a floral, lighter aspect to them. Even so, they are generally drunk with milk to balance out their higher tannin content. Our Assams need to be brewed longer than most as the larger leaf have a smaller surface area compared to their volume and therefore offer a more complex, rounded flavour. This contrasts with the smaller leaf varieties which do not have this complexity and full flavour. If allowed to brew too long will yield unpleasant, excessive tannin content in the cup. Another, especially good reason to avoid teabags which have an even smaller leaf!
Assam, until the 1830s an inpenetrable, tropical jungle
The Upper Assam valley, where most of the regions tea is grown, is a tropical area of very high rainfall and humidity. It lies between the eastern end of the Himalayas to the north and the mountains of Naga and Patkoi to the south. It is 120 miles east of Darjeeling, close to the Burmese border. In 1823 a tea variant Camellia assamica was first found by Major Robert Bruce of the East India Company growing wild in Upper Assam as trees up to sixty feet high. This tea has slightly larger leaves than the Chinese variety Camellia sinensis and produces a more full-bodied taste. Until tea was first cultivated by the British in the 1830s this area was of dense jungle inhabited by remote tribes. It is still an area difficult to work because of this humidity, rainfall (around 118 inches each year) and remoteness. It also suffers from snakes and unpleasant insects. Here the Singpho people were found to be cultivating tea and Bruce sent seeds to his brother at the Culcutta Botanical Gardens who forwarded them to the Danish botanist Nathaniel Wallich who confirmed that they were tea and that they could be successfully grown commercially.
A perfect region for growing the best teas
Between April and September the monsoon drenches the region bringing a fresh layer of fertile sediments to the low-lying valley. Picking starts in May to June for the tippy second flush teas with the majority of the plucking from July to September but continuing to late picking in November. The conditions bring abundant growth enabling picking on a weekly basis.
A truly distinctive tea
Assam teas have long been popular at breakfast for their good body but they should not be considered a brutish ‘builder’s tea’, for strength is only one possible characteristic of these teas and tends to be confined to the small leaf CTC (cut tear curl) teas rather than the orthodox larger leafed teas we offer. The lighter second flushes are pleasant in the afternoon and have two styles having either a characteristic creamy, maltiness or a malty, brisker taste with a more finely tuned malty to spicy aroma. First flushes are not generally attractive to a Western palate as they can be rather astringent. The best teas tend to come from the Upper Assam Valley gardens especially the red loam soils of the Doom Dooma tea belt. We offer second flush teas from the Harmutty, Bukhial, Menoka gardens. We also offer superb tippy pickings from Mangalam, Mothola (including their Black, Green, Oolong and White organic teas) and Dikom gardens. We also have Harmutty Mid Season for those who like a more full bodied picking.
Assam teas are an inspiration to those who do not know them and a pleasure to those that do. The best have a good elegant maltiness and vary in body from full to medium bodied making them attractive throughout the day. We hope you enjoy discovering which you like best for all the occasions when you wish to drink distinctive malty teas.
See the the Assam Teas section of our Tea Store.