Origins over aisles: In pursuit of the better tea

Cruising the humid plains of Assam’s tea growing region, the air gets thicker and thicker with the scent of tea leaves as you venture deeper into the terrains. At one point, the vast expanse of manicured tea plants, some native and the rest hybrid varieties of Camellia Sinensis var Assamica, is the only visual in sight, barring the peppered inclusion of modestly-grown shade trees in-between the plants and dense tropical forest on either side.

Sometimes the only thing that breaks this monotony is the sight of tea pluckers, mostly women, pulling sharply but adeptly at the plants, gathering young tender shoots in their bamboo baskets for making one of the world’s most beloved and widely consumed morning breakfast teas.

Assam tea estates

In fact, Assam is so synonymous with [Indian] black tea that most tea drinkers don’t realize there’s more than just one kind. Assam comprises of 798 tea estates, across 21 districts, spread over more than 920,00 hectares of land, making it the largest tea growing region in the world.

As you move through the region, terroir changes and, with it, the teas. Even the slightest variation in growing conditions – the ratio of shade to sun, the sweetness of water, the age of the plants, choice of fertilizer, etc – in addition to the skill and the intent of the maker, results in markedly different styles of the same kind of tea.

Safe to say, then, that much like how there are many different kinds of red wine from one region – from Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon to Malbec and Merlot – there’s more than just one kind of Assam tea, and the opportunity for ‘discovery’, especially with the estate labels, is extensive.

Single estate tea: All you need to know

To know a single estate tea is to know an entire land, so to speak.

A single estate tea is made entirely from the tea plants grown in the gardens owned and managed by an estate, made on the estate’s property, never leaving the confines of it during any point of its manufacture. Typically, the tea gardens of an estate are all connected and, in the case of Assam, flank at much the same elevation but marked with different appellations.

Such a terroir gnostic tea firmly buttresses the qualities unique to the estate. Irrigated with the sweet river water from around the estate? The tea will exhibit some of that sweetness in the cup. Dandelions around? The gentle floral notes of the yellow flower will show in the nose and the cup. Anything and everything that surrounds the tea making process – the terroir – goes on to reveal itself in the cup. Even the intent of the maker.

Not all tea makers make their teas the same way, even if they hail from around one another. The steps are all the same, and sometimes, the machinery is too. However, every good tea maker makes his tea with the skills of a parent – devoted and committed to nurturing the plant into the best possible version of itself.

They understand their plants best and know what it’s capable of delivering in the cup. And hence their reasons for tuning up and down, say, the degree of trough time, withering, or oxidation.

Tender Tea Leaves

The resultant tea, then, is more than just that. Such a tea encapsulates its origins, identifies its maker and his intent, and lives to tell the tale. And with that, it becomes more than just any other tea. It becomes a very specific and unique tea.

Estate teas from Assam

Assam’s foray into the world of single-estate tea is rather recent. But as more and more tea estates realize the shift in preferences in favor of high-quality teas and a tea drinker’s desire to enhance their daily cups, there’s an explosion of interest in developing estate labels.

Estates teas from Assam

As with the best single estate teas, those of Halmari are marked by purity, depth of flavours, clarity in flavours, and incredible drinkability. Halmari’s 374 hectares of cultivated land, 100 years old on an average, are planted on the naturally fertile soils of Upper Assam and all of the production abides by international quality standards.

Flavours both classic and unique to the land seep into the cup – malt, nuts, honeysuckle and red fruit – tasting brisk but balanced and layered enough to be perceived on the palate.

So, go on and up your daily cuppa with a single-origin, the estate made tea from Assam.

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