We think of Camellia Sinensis var. assamica teas as those grown in the state of Assam in northern India. But this varietal of the tea plant is also grown elsewhere and, due to that alternate growing environment, can taste rather different from those grown in Assam.
The assamica varietal is raised in these locations (and others):
- Assam state in northern India — basically “ground zero” for assamica teas.
- Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) — some sinensis varietal grown here, but assamica does better in their climate.
- Yunnan province in southern China — mostly made into pu-erh (but not all pu-erhs are made from assamica leaves), a tea that is sometimes classified as a black tea but is actually in a class by itself, being post-processing fermented.
- Laos, which borders Yunnan — also mostly made into pu-erh.
- Myanmar (formerly Burma), which borders Yunnan — also mostly made into pu-erh.
- North Vietnam, which borders Yunnan — a pleasant and sweet aroma similar to some cheaper Yunnan teas but more body and a darker color.
- African countries, including Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Rwanda — They are often blended with those grown in Assam, India, since they have a similar malty character but tend to steep up less bitter. Kenya began planting Assam tea from seeds brought over in the early 20th century. Zimbabwe began theirs at the tea estate called New Year’s Gift in 1924.
- Thailand — assamica is used to make “Thai tea” and is considered inferior to teas grown in northern areas of Thailand.
Unlike the Chinese varietal Camellia Sinensis var. sinensis, typically ranging in size from a shrub to small tree, the Indian varietal Camellia Sinensis var. assamica, while usually kept trimmed to a more easily harvested shrub, can grow into a large tree. The flowers are mostly single in leaf axils and can bloom from late Autumn to early Spring. Assamica leaf sizes can be as large as 20 centimeters and tend to be tougher than the sinensis varietal.
There is a Cambodian plant (sometimes called C. sinensis parvifolia) that is in-between the Assam and Chinese varieties; it is a small tree with several stems and is considered a hybrid of the assamica and sinensis varietals.
A few blends featuring assamica teas:
- Irish Breakfast — Whether you go for a generic version (Kenyan and Assam grown assamicas) or a brandname like Bewley’s (Assam and Darjeeling teas) and Barry’s (Kenyan and Assam grown assamicas), you will be treated to a ruby-colored liquid, a strong and malty aroma, and a rich flavor that stands up well to milk and sweetener when steeped a full 5 minutes or that can be enjoyed straight when steeped lighter for only 2 or 3 minutes.
- Buckingham Palace Garden Party Loose Leaf Tea — They’re probably toasting the birth of the latest member of the British Royal Family with this one. A blend of high-grown pure Ceylon flavored with oil of Bergamot, Fujian jasmine scented tea, a wonderfully malty Assam from Borengajuli Estate, Dimbula Ceylon from Hatton, and East of Rift Kenyan (Kambaa and Kagwe). Very celebratory indeed!
- French Blend Tea — You get a rich tapestry of flavors here. Start with teas from Sri Lanka, Nilgiri, Assam, and Kenya. Add in a jasmine scented tea from China. Give it a touch of crème de la vanille, Earl Grey (oil of bergamot), rose petals, and lavender. You get a flowery character and malty notes. You also get a very perfumy cup that will transport you to the Champs Elysée. Don’t forget to enjoy a flaky croissant while there!
Yes, assamica teas are truly universal. Enjoy one today!
See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.
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