Is Snobbery Ruining Assam Tea?

Indian Spiced Chai
Indian Spiced Chai

As people learn more about tea and consequently seek better and more exotic teas, are some perfectly good teas getting pushed out of the market? It’s often called snobbery — or just a strong personal preference.

My favorite tea is CTC Assam, a lower quality, machine processed tea from the Assam area of India that is usually consumed by the locals, not exported, but that can be purchased locally in an Indian market near my home. It is the basis of Indian masala chai (spiced tea) that is served hot with lots of milk. For many tea lovers, though, this tea is considered a bit below their tastes. They want a higher quality Assam that has been processed by hand (usually called “orthodox”) and/or that’s “tippy” with some gold color evident on the leaves.

A higher quality tea means hand-harvesting, too, and from better tea bushes to assure better quality tea leaves picked at the right moment in their growth. More demand for these orthodox boutique Assams means more of the crop goes toward their production. Which means less goes to producing the CTC Assam.

Online, there are a lot of Assams claiming that they are made of only “the finest Assam tea” which means they are not CTC Assam. More and more of the true CTC Assam teas seem to “disappear” into blends, such as Harney & Sons’ East Friesian and Indian Spice, but are presented straight in their Irish Breakfast tea.

I’m not panicking yet, though. Well, maybe just a little. Perhaps a bit of stocking up is needed. There is so much “tippy” Assam out there even in that local Indian market that it makes me slightly nervous. Not that the better Assams aren’t great, too. They’re just not, well, suitable for spicing up — they taste too good. Sometimes, the lower quality has its purpose.

Of course, that goes for other things, too. The lesser cuts of meat get ground up for sausages and hotdogs, or at least they used to until someone said “Let’s use better cuts of meat and make the sausages and hotdogs more ‘gourmet’.” Quilts used to be made from scraps of cloth that remained from a shirt too worn to qualify as a shirt or a dress that was no longer serving its purpose, but now quilts are made of new cloth bought purposely for them.

It’s not bad. It’s just progress, I guess. Meanwhile, what happens to those lesser cuts of meat or the worn out clothing? The former becomes pet food, and the latter goes in the trash bin.

As for that CTC Assam, hopefully there will always be enough around for those of us who recognize its real worth and whose tastebuds embrace what others may consider to be inferior tea. I’m off for a cuppa that Irish Breakfast with a pinch of masala and some milk and sweetener. Ah! I’m feeling better already!

See also:
Ah, Assam!
Assam Tea Basics
More on Assam
Some Assam Tea Types
Great Assam Breakfast Blends
What Is “CTC Assam”?
Organic Assam TGFOP by The English Tea Store
The English Tea Store’s Tarajulie Estate Assam
Tea Review – Borengajuli Estate Tea

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2 thoughts on “Is Snobbery Ruining Assam Tea?

  1. Pingback: Review ― Assam TGFOP from The English Tea Store « Tea Blog

  2. Sometimes I get a taste for a good CTC tea, so I understand your sentiments. I love a good hamburger and I love a good steak, and sometimes, I just have to have the burger even though it is considered to be of “lesser” quality than a prime cut. But that’s the way our tastebuds work!

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