What is Assam black tea?
By Caleb Fanshawe
What is Assam tea and where is it grown?
Tucked away in the north-east corner of India between Bhutan and Bangladesh you will find the state of Assam. With over 700 tea estates and plantations, Assam is widely considered to be the largest tea-growing region in the world, accounting for around half of India’s total tea production.
Along with the Yunnan province in China, the Assam region is one of the only original locations of the tea plant (Camellia Sinensis) in the world. The combination of rich, fertile soil and heavy monsoon rains are ideal conditions for growing tea, resulting in rows and rows of gorgeous green tea bushes. The dark-green glossy leaves of Assam’s tea bushes are noticeably larger than most, which lead to the plant being classified as a variety of tea: dubbed Camellia Sinensis Assamica.
Tea grown and produced in Assam is most likely to be a rich, full-flavoured black tea because of the tropical climate and lower altitude of the region it is grown in. Small amounts of green and white teas are produced in the region too, but black tea is the most common. The richness of Assam tea differs from other Indian teas such as Darjeeling, which is grown in the foothills of the Himalayas and is renowned for its light, wine-like taste.
The robust flavour of Assam tea has made it a classic favourite around the world, and one which you have probably tried before without even knowing: its body and richness has made it the foundation of almost every breakfast blend, including our very own Brockley Breakfast. You can read more about breakfast teas in our blog post here.
When is Assam tea harvested and how is it processed?
Assam is typically harvested three times a year, in time periods called ‘flushes’ (a term most commonly used for the harvests of Darjeeling). Each flush refers to the time span in which the tea bushes grow new leaves, which are the most flavourful for processing into tea.
The first flush of Assam is picked in late March, the second in late May, and the third in the autumn before the tea fields lie dormant over the winter. First flushes typically produce a smooth and fragrant cup but it’s the malty richness of second flush Assam tea which usually finds its way into the cups of breakfast tea lovers.
Once Assam tea leaves are picked, they are bruised to encourage oxidation (a chemical reaction with the air), before the process is stopped by treating the leaves with heat. The leaves are then gently rolled and dried to lock in the flavour.
Like most black teas, Assam’s tea leaves are a beautiful deep brown colour. However, the youngest tea leaves of second flush Assam are tightly-closed golden tips, which can be seen in the processed tea itself and leads to the tea being often described as ‘tippy tea’.
What about Good & Proper's Assam black tea?
Though the region of Assam produces vast quantities of tea, a lot of that is destined for low grade tea bags that you will find on supermarket shelves. If you take a look inside a big-brand tea bag you will find tea that has undergone the crush-tear-curl (CTC) process, which chops the leaves into small pieces so that they oxidise (and brew) quickly. Brewing the tea in this format has been popular in the UK since the 1930s because of the speed at which a cup of tea can be made, but the taste is often an overly bitter and disappointing cup.
This is not the case for our Assam: we source only delicious whole tea leaves from the Khongea Estate. Khongea is a stunning tea plantation on the south bank of the roaring Brahmaputra River, which has been owned by the same family for over 50 years. State-of-the-art machinery is used to carefully process delicious Assam tea leaves, left fully intact for the best flavour. The result is a uniquely rich, malty Assam, with a beautiful copper-coloured liquor.
Our Assam was the very first tea we sourced, yet it’s been constantly popular and now forms the foundation of our signature breakfast blend: a testament to how delicious and versatile this tea is.
How best to enjoy Assam black tea?
As the backbone of most breakfast blends, Assam means one thing to tea-drinkers: milk. Adding a drop of milk to a perfectly-brewed cup of Assam is a match made in heaven. The richness of dairy or oat milk smooths out the tannins and body in the tea, yet the characteristic maltiness shines through. This is a tea for an autumnal morning with a hearty bowl of porridge, or in your favourite large mug with a biscuit as the ultimate tea break. It’s a favourite tea of ours and countless others, and once you’ve tried Assam it’s easy to see why.