We often get asked how one should go about buying an Assam tea – things to look for, the red flags, the value markers and more such things. And hence this tea guide.
It has just enough information to help a tea enthusiast choose better. Beginners will find handy tips, experts will find validation. Either way, this guide should be able to quench most expectations successfully and with real application merits.
Getting started with an Assam tea
Choosing an Assam tea is no different than choosing any other variety. The decision factors in much the same quality parameters, with the exception of the markers around origins, flavours, and aromas. Three key things to note about Assam teas are that
1. Assam teas are low-elevation teas
Much of the 300,000 plus hectares of land under tea production is situated at near sea level. Tea gardens here flank somewhere between 40 and 60 meters above median sea level, and that’s as close to the ground as it gets. The tea growing region is enriched by nutrient-heavy Himalayan silt from the Brahmaputra river – the world’s third largest – that flows through the northern part of the state of Assam in India.
2. Assam teas are grown in tropical conditions
Assam experiences a tropical monsoon rainforest climate. Much of the year is defined by heavy rainfall, and then some by high humidity and a strong sun, making this part of India’s biodiversity hotspot marked by thick forests and a diverse variety of flora and fauna.
The region supports a native variety of tea called Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica or its hybrids. Unlike the Chinese tea plants, which flourish more favourably in high-elevation regions, Assamica bushes thrive in the tropics, take to the sun, and as a result, boast larger leaves and grow quite tall.
3. Assam teas have strength and richness
c. Sinensis var Assamica and its hybrids have a rich flavanol content, much more than the var Sinensis variety. As a result, teas from these plants tend to have bitter edges, sharp flavours, and often palate-potent astringency. It’s also what makes this variety best suited for black teas.
Also, the growing conditions give the tea a certain richness. Black teas from Assam are distinct for their malty, nutty taste, while the greens, roasted and high-fired, have sharp charred notes and a thick vegetal taste.
Things to keep in mind when buying an Assam tea
Or any tea, to be honest.
Quite often the teas we find in the supermarkets are in fact assembly-line teas, made just as processed foods are, to specifications derived from many years of customer studies. And if you are one of those who care about the intricacies of what you consume it helps to expend energy seeking out great teas that honour origins as well as the tea-making craft.
However, even with traditionally styled orthodox teas, there are few guarantees around the quality of the tea. No two teas are created alike and rest assured, there are some bad teas out there. Some flaws are a result of poor production techniques, others are due to improper handling and poor storage.
And so, it helps to equip yourself with knowledge about the common flaws and how to pick them out when dealing with orthodox teas, including those from Assam.
1. Look for signs of freshness
A recently produced tea will have bloom, a bright appearance, and distinct fragrance. The liquor should be glossy, clear, flavourful, and without any off notes. Also, consciously seek out origins and buy from source.
2. Look for tips in the leaf mix
Most high-quality orthodox Assam teas have ample taupe or golden coloured tips in the leaf mix. A tippy tea promises a richer flavour experience since tips are where the most number of volatile aromatic compounds are stored.
3. Get a sense of typical flavours
Black teas from Assam are brisk, astringent and often tipped with notes of malt, wood, red fruit, and nuts. Green teas, tend to be sea weedy and vegetal-tasting. Oolongs are rare, but those that are produced tend to be smooth, and tasting of malt and white flowers.
We also recommend that you buy tea in small lots and buy frequently. If you hoard a lot of tea you run the risk of letting the flavours turn flat. Also, seek out teas from reputed producers with clear markers and certifications supporting their production quality. Choose Halmari Tea for the best single origin Assam tea brought to you straight from an award winning estate.