If strength is your weakness, Assam is your tea
So the saying goes, about “the strong one” – Assam tea is the one many of us wake up to. This brisk black tea is blended into English and Irish breakfast teas, and more than 400 different single estate Assams are available from this most prolific of all tea regions in the world.
Everything about this tea is big – even the leaf. The larger leaves produce a darker and stronger tea, which makes it stand up well to milk and sugar. Local people love to drink spicy masala chai (brewed sweet tea with milk and spices) using Assam loose tea leaves. Amongst black teas, you can always pick out Assam by its distinctive malty aroma and honey finish to the taste. Even though it’s a very strong tea, Assam is velvety smooth.
The varietal of tea plant that comes from Assam is Camellia sinensis assamica, and its leaves are about twice as big as the Chinese varietal Camellia sinensis sinensis. Assam is one of only two regions in the world with native tea plants (along with Southern China). This very wet Himalayan valley extends over 500 miles along the Brahmaputra river. It gets 80 – 120 inches of rainfall annually, and parts of it look like a tropical jungle. Assam is home to the largest wildlife sanctuary in India, where you can still see the one-horned Indian Rhinoceros and the Asiatic Elephant.
One-horned Rhino – photo credit: Lip Kee
Assam tea steeps up into a beautiful dark liquor. Adding milk to the tea turns it to a characteristically ruby-amber hue.
The way to make a traditional English cuppa would be to put one teaspoon of loose leaf tea per cup into a warmed teapot. Fill the teapot with freshly boiled water and stir a few seconds with a tall spoon to “elevate” the tea. Let the tea steep for 3-5 minutes. The tea will get stronger and more bitter the longer it steeps. Many Britons add milk to their tea, a habit which began when tea was thought to be bad for your health. Milk was added, in an attempt to make it healthier. “Builders’ Tea” was inspired by British builders who would not work on a house without tea breaks as a way of structuring a hard day’s work. They prefer strong, smooth and mellow tea, like Assam, and drink it with milk and sugar. Builder’s Tea goes especially well with digestive biscuits, making for a hearty snack.