Assam is truly a “stealth tea,” one that is often not in the forefront but definitely tasted as part of a blend, sort of like a bass violin that you hear almost subliminally. Many breakfast blends start with Assam, then build up from that malty taste to give you a rich symphony of flavor with subtleties that come through even if you load up the tea with milk and sweetener. Just like you can always pick out the various instruments in an orchestra as the violin section plays the melody line.
Of course, you can always go with a breakfast tea that is pure Assam, such as Harney & Sons Irish Breakfast. It’s 100% Assam (most Irish teas are) and is a good way to start your morning, especially with milk and sweetener. (Theirs is a little more refined than most.) You’ll get the wonderful characteristics of Assam, which are fine, but a bit like a couple of flutists playing: limited in range.
Add in a couple of violins, maybe an oboe, bassoon, and even a trumpet. The variations in harmony and melody expand. Going from pure Assam tea (that flute duet) into blends (those other instruments added in) gives you more variations in the aromas and flavors. For example, adding a bit of Keemun will shift the flavor in a particular direction, while a dash of Darjeeling will add its own aroma and taste notes. Other blends use Yunnan black, Kenyan, and Ceylon teas, each having its own flavor characteristics to add to the mix (like adding percussion instruments, more strings, a saxophone, and maybe even a clarinet or two). Just as musically you start to get richer sound, so does your tea experience.
Definitely, an Assam blend for breakfast can be an enriching experience. A number of these are available.
Some of the better known blends include:
- East Frisian Tea Blend — Start off your foray into Assam blends with this amazing composition of selected Assam Teas (some East Frisians include Indonesian black teas that have a flavor that melds with the Assam). Sort of like a couple of classical guitar players performing Issaac Albéniz’s “Granada,” very easy on the ears. (East Frisian is an area in the northern part of Germany.)
- English Breakfast Tea— There are various versions. One consists of Ceylon (adds flavor), strong Assam, and Kenya (gives a bit of color). The color is wonderful, and the taste is deliciously strong, rich, and fresh, taking milk well. You can drink it all day long. Sort of like listening to a string quintet playing a series of Romantic compositions.
- Golden Moon English Breakfast Tea— A concerto of Assam, Keemun, and Ceylon tea leaves and some refined Darjeeling. The copper-colored “liquor” wakes up your tastebuds with its brisk, varied flavor, starting out toasty and adding in floral undertones. Great with milk and sweetener. Now you’re up to a more complex composition such as the Cello Sonata No. 3 in A Major by Ludwig van Beethoven or a big band, playing all the hits from the 1970s and 1980s.
- Mount Everest Blend — Scale new heights of tea taste (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) as the maltiness of the Assam tea plays a contrapuntal dance with the peppery Yunnan black teas. This is one you could drink with or without milk, as you prefer.
Whichever you try, from the simple to the complex, a harmony of tastes awaits you. So, enjoy, Maestro!
If you’re interested in learning more about tea, make sure to visit A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill.