2ND FLUSH ASSAM TEA
Welcome to Twinings Tea Taster classes – for this month’s edition we are exploring the world of Assam tea.
Assam tea is named after the Assam region where it’s produced. The region straddles the southeast Himalayas, sharing borders with both Bhutan and Bangladesh.
Amazingly, the region itself is almost the size of Ireland – between 78,000 and 80,000 square kilometres – plenty of space for growing tea. Straight through the middle of the Assam region lies the roaring Brahmaputra river, creating fertile grounds, perfect for hash crops, particularly tea.
As a tea region, Assam is accredited as being developed by Robert Bruce, way back in 1823 when trading with China was going through a difficult time. The very first Assam teas bought to the UK from this region were pungent and a little overwhelming to the taste, which is why we use or talk about using milk and sugar with Assam tea.
In fact, you will often find Assam in your strong breakfast blends. These days, production methods are world class and yield fine quality teas; the Assam tea of today delivers a sweet caramel characteristic that we know and love it for.
TEA ESTATE, ALTITUDE & CLIMATE
We love this superb tea from the Langharjan Estate, in the eastern part of Assam – to us, it captures the essence of Assam with its remarkable character and flavour.
Assam tea is characteristic of the area in which it’s grown. These tea bushes love to grow at sea level, where temperatures range from about 35 to 38 degrees in the summer, and regulated by monsoon rains which keeps everything nice and cool. What most people don’t realise about this region of India, is that in the winter months, temperatures drop way down into single digits.
THE TEA PLANT
The Assam tea plant varies somewhat from the Chinese variety (the one we usually speak about when we’re talking about white teas and green teas). The Assam tea bush is the variant called the Camellia Sinensis Assamica where as the Chinese plant is the Camellia Sinensis Sinensis, the high grown Chinese variant.
Assam teas are characterized very similarly to Darjeeling teas and as such they come in a number of flushes; a flush is the number of times per year or per season that the plant yields and delivers beautiful leaves for plucking and turning into tea.
The Assam region has three flushes, the first flush, from around March to May/June. Then the second flush going from May/June right the way through to about October and then finally, the winter flush going from October through to about December.
The three flushes are characteristically very [very] different. The first flush is mainly used by Twinings in our tea blends such as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Tea Blend; the second flush is what we are probably familiar with here in the UK and used as a single estate tea, and finally the winter flush, the third flush, is used more predominantly locally within the Assam region and again, with some blending.
This Twinings Tea Taster class is looking at the second flush Assam, as you make your tea from the tea taster sample mailed to you [Tea Taster Members only] we’re going to have a taste together and see what delights that holds.
Whilst tasting the Second Flush Assam we will also compare it to a Darjeeling tea, spoken about in other master classes. This will just help determine the difference between the two regions in India.
BOILING AND BREWING YOUR TEA
It is always best to switch off your kettle just before it enters a rolling boil at around 98 degrees. This saves some of the oxygen saturation within the water, which is great for helping with the taste of the tea.
Here at Twinings we use tasting crockery. For this, or a normal mug diffuser, we suggest a good-heaped teaspoon of tea and then pour the water over the dried leaves. If you can, wait three and a half minutes for the tea to diffuse. We think of this being - a minute for the colour, a minute for the flavour, and a minute for good luck (we are so technical).
If you taste this Assam tea against our Darjeeling, then when you are brewing the Darjeeling tea, have some slightly cooler water. Allowing it to cool for a few minutes creates a great temperature for use with Darjeeling tea. Again, brew for three to three and a half minutes to get the optimum flavour.
For use at home, we like to use a teapot as one cup is never enough. We use a Bodum three-cup teapot, actually called an Assam teapot because of its nice, round shape. For this we would use three heaped teaspoons and another one for the pot - so four in total.
After three and a half minutes in this glass teapot you can see the beautiful colours that the defused tea will behold as well as a deep coppery red hue, which is often indicative of good quality rainfall.
THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN ASSAM AND DARJEELING
The teas are produced slightly differently. The Assam tea has been allowed to enter an oxidization process in its production cycle, which lets it go that really deep black colour. With the Darjeeling, the beautiful floral flavours really fill your nose. The dry Darjeeling tea is lighter in colour, almost green – in fact, some confuse this with green tea.
TASTE AND COMPARE
Darjeeling First – the dry leaves of this Upper Namring tea has good tip content and a nice fresh, field green colour.
Our Assam, a nice black tea, again tippy with lots of young, unopened leaves there within the produced tea. The two resulting liquors; one [the Assam] is very coppery, a caramel brown and the other [the Darjeeling] a nice, pale champagne gold. The aromas coming from both teas is beautiful, each with its own distinct scent
With the Darjeeling you’ll notice straight away that it’s characterised by a nice, peachy body and a nice sweetness rolling off the back of the palate. Unmistakable. We would always recommend this is drunk without milk and sugar but as usual, it is up to your own personal taste.
Assam tea on the other hand has a slight sweetness to start with, then it becomes thick and malty - it has got a very strong taste on the palate. This tea is going to be fantastic if you love a splash of milk; this can often make the Assam even more drinkable as it softens some of those robust flavours. If you wish, try with touch of sugar as well.