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Assam Tea Basics

Assam Tea
Assam Tea

One of the best black teas around comes from one of the wettest areas on this wonderful planet we call home: a region of India called Assam. A large river, the Brahmaputra, fed by snow melt off the Himalayas, accounts for some of the moisture. Monsoon rains that fall from May through June account for the majority. We’re talking “sauna” for two months out of the year, during which tea grows like crazy, is harvested, and then processed as fast as possible. This is Assam tea.

Coming from a varietal of the original tea bush (Camellia Sinensis) called Camellia Sinensis assamica, Assam tea is in a class of its own. Rich in color (dark reddish brown) and aroma, with a biscuity/malty flavor that’s well-suited to adding milk and sweetener, this tea satisfies both as a breakfast tea and throughout the day. For me, it was love at first gulp.

According to Michael Harney of Harney & Sons in his book The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea, withering (drying) the teas has to be done fast in this most humid area. He states, “As a result of this soft wither, Assams are more muted, more soothing, and a darker, richer brown color.” Then it’s a rush to roll and oxidize the withered tea leaves. The rolling is actually a crushing. The first pieces that are small enough to be suitable for steeping are the “fines” and are sieved out. Some of the tea is formed into nuggets (the kind I’m used to), and steep quickly and darkly. A recent innovation is called “golden tip” (because it’s made from the tea leaf tips) and is slightly lighter in flavor and aroma than the usual Assam teas. (I have an unopened box, recently bought.)

Assam Teabags
Assam Teabags

Assam is available both loose and bagged. While my strong preference is for loose tea floating free in the pot, this is one tea I would drink bagged because I know that the contents in the bags is better quality than standard bagged teas (which are mainly filled with tea leaf dust). It is also available as a generic Assam (plantation not specified) from tea vendors such as Taylors of Harrogate, Williamson, and Harney & Sons, or from particular plantations such as Tarajulie and Borengajuli. Assam is used in many breakfast blends, adding its signature taste to the brew.

Milk in tea has been shown to inhibit some of the benefits you get from tea, but in Assam tea, which tends to brew up strong even with short steeping times, I find milk essential for smoothing out the edges. A bit of sweetener is also good. This tea was actually “designed” with milk in mind and is enjoyed that way both in India and elsewhere.

Do you like curry and other spicy foods from India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Korea, and other Asian countries? Assam is a perfect “go-with” tea if you use milk in it, which contains casein that helps coat the tastebuds and cool that spicy fire — one reason I accompany such foods with Assam tea, Indian chai (which often has Assam tea as a base along with the spices), or a lassie (made with plain yogurt and some fruit, usually mango).

Even if your culinary tastes don’t stray beyond steak and potatoes or salads and granola, one potful, and you’ll be hooked as I am. Enjoy!

Are you discovering the joys of tea for the first time? Are you dying to learn more? Visit A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill, for more on the wide world of tea!

6 responses to “Assam Tea Basics”

  1. […] tea I like best with these is a good, strong Assam, preferably the CTC style and with a pinch of masala, a big splash of milk, and a packet of […]

  2. […] malt character opens with milk. Interested in learning more about Assam? Check out these posts: Assam Tea Basics and More on […]

  3. […] I rarely let an opportunity pass to discuss Assam tea, in general, but I’ll be brief. The Assam region in India is one of the world’s largest tea-growing regions and turn out almost exclusively black tea. From the point of a black tea connoisseur, a lot of this output is perhaps not quite what you’d call top-shelf stuff – and that’s putting it mildly. On the other hand, some of the best black tea I’ve ever had the pleasure to sample has come from Assam. […]

  4. […] We need a pot of tea that can go the distance, giving us each at least a third full cup of malty Assam or smoky Keemun or even a nice raisiny black Ceylon. How can we use a little more tea leaves to get […]

  5. […] you that I use a teapot, have done all of the above, and still prefer that method for steeping my Assams, breakfast blends, and other teas (including some Darjeeling teas) that are good by the potful. […]

  6. […] also Ah, Assam!   Assam Tea Basics   More on Assam   Some Assam Tea Types   Great Assam Breakfast Blends   What Is “CTC Assam”? […]

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