Both these categories of teas are famous all over the world and each will have their staunch loyalists claiming that their favourite is the best. After all, each has carved a niche for itself in the years gone by. Probably, the only thing Darjeeling has in common to some of the Assam teas is the style of manufacture and some of the grading. Apart from that, most of the other characteristics and parameters are as different as chalk and cheese.
While majority of the Assams are grown across lower lying plains, the teas from Darjeeling are grown in much higher altitudes and the weather conditions differ massively as well. There is a notable difference in the quality of the soil as well because of the difference in terrains. Darjeeling lies at the foothills of the Himalayas while the state of Assam is more than ably supported with fertile and loamy soil because of the Brahmaputra River.
The production styles for both these categories of tea are quite similar if not the same as far as the whole leaf grades are concerned. The major difference in production style comes when CTC style of production is taken into context. Darjeeling tea is never broken down into such small granules while some of the best black tea in the world comes in the form of CTC. Also, there are some gardens in Assam which produce tea throughout the year in varying quantities and quality. This is not possible in Darjeeling as production comes to a standstill once the winter season start approaching as the tea cannot be produced in such harsh and cold conditions.
Peak production period
It is quite a well known fact that majority of the best black teas in the prized Assam region are produced during the “second flush” period which generally takes place during the months of May and mainly June. These teas are the crème de la crème of the black teas around the world and the best ones will produce bright golden yellow cups with loads of briskness. Darjeeling teas on the other hand see a lot of their best being produced during the “first flush” months which are usually March and April. These are the teas that any true Darjeeling connoisseur will wait for every year. During this period, they have silver coloured tips and these teas produce a lot of flavour and aroma in general. During the second flush, these tips turn golden.
While both categories of tea would be classified under the black tea category, they also have a lot of similarity in terms of leaf appearance as some Assams and most of the Darjeeling teas undergo the orthodox style of manufacturing. In general and before production, the leaf of the Assam variety is bigger than the leaf of the Darjeeling variety which is actually unique when compared to other Indian varieties since it is similar to some of the smaller leaves found in China.
Darjeeling teas are known to possess some of the best if not the best flavour and aroma when compared to all other teas across the world. This is the speciality of the region because of the favourable terrain in terms of higher altitude and the weather conditions as well. While the cups contain the aforementioned characteristics, it is not strong on the palate and makes it the ideal cup for people who are not fond of strong tea. It would also be good for lactose intolerant people as this tea is drunk best without the addition of milk since it would cut out the flavours and aromas that make this such a prized tea. Assam makes up in strength/briskness of liquor what it may lack in terms of smell and these can be drunk with or without milk being added to it. It is the perfect cup of tea to consume throughout the day and is especially good for those who want to “wake up” in the morning in order to start their day.
Assam produces a much larger quantity of tea as compared to the region of Darjeeling as not only are the weather conditions more favourable throughout the year, the entire region of Assam is much larger in area as well. Another reason to this is that a majority of the production in Assam is aimed at the masses and undergoes the CTC style of manufacture which yields higher production levels. Since Darjeeling tea in produced in much smaller quantity, not only does it fetch higher prices, it also gets sold out easily because of the laws of supply and demand.
As can be seen from the above, these were the basic differences between the two heavy weights of the black tea industry. Try both these varieties to get a real feel of these differences.