So many people, when you mention “fine tea” or “premium tea” to them, automatically think of the “great teas” from China (the exact list varies), the prize-winning oolongs from the nation of Taiwan, and of course the teas from the 87 (or is it 88?) tea gardens able to claim the label of Darjeeling. And when you think of Assam tea, you think of cheap breakfast blends. But that has been changing over the years.
The tea gardens in the state of Assam in northern India number in the hundreds (and that number varies quite a bit, depending on the source). It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the styles of teas coming to market from those gardens varies, too. But the trend is getting even more pronounced. Time to go exploring.
A Quick Review of Tea Types
You probably are familiar with green and black teas, but there are also oolongs, yellow teas, and pu-erh (fermented or aged) teas. These come in a wide variety – different cultivars, terroirs, methods of processing, blending, etc.
A Bit About Teas from Assam
When it comes to teas from Assam, they used to be all black teas and mostly CTC style (a method of processing that is done by machine). Now, you can easily find the tippy, orthodox style of teas (at least partially processed by hand, although the step of drying the leaves may be done by machine). There are also more and more samples of green and white Assam teas showing up online. And the interest of Assam tea garden owners and the people who process their teas in the making oolong style teas is growing.
Tippy Assams Gaining in Popularity
Tea connoisseurs are really boosting the popularity of tippy Assams. These are made from the typical two-leaves-and-a-bud sets from stem tips of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis species). They are often called “golden tippy” because of their color after processing which is lighter than the normal dark brown shown in the slides above. The flavor is more layered and less likely to be bitter, so you can drink it without anything added.
The New Varieties of Assam Tea
White tea from Assam is becoming quite a competitor to those from China (Fuding and Yunnan provinces). In late August of this year, Raj Barooah, the director of Aideobari Tea Estates (Pvt) Ltd, in Jorhat, Assam, India, took some of his tea to Hong Kong for the first time to be exhibited at their International Food Fair. He had to coax the doubtful tea experts there to try it. But they finally did and were quite satisfied with the clear, pale liquid and the fresh, light taste with its lingering delicate sweetness. A sign of more to come.
Green tea is becoming quite common. An online search pops up hundreds of results. Some are the dust-in-a-teabag kind while others are the orthodox style where you can see the little shrunken leaf pieces. I have seen comments online by tea aficionados who declare these teas are comparable to many of the green teas from China. Some are even now being sold by the garden and the flush/harvest (for example, Spring of 2014).
Speaking of selling by the tea garden, that trend is growing for their black teas, too, just as it is for Darjeeling teas. On one site I saw tea from these Tea Estates: Belseri, Behora, Borengajuli, Thowra, Tezpore/Gogra, Bogapani, Rani, Heritage, Tonganagaon, Halmari, Mokalbari East, Attabarie, Doomni, Mothola, Margherita, Mangalam, Harmutty, Namdang, Panitola, Koomsong, Orangajuli, Hunwal, Sewpur, Joonktollee, Dikom, Arunachal, Menoka, and Sepon. Phew!
More choices are always a good thing. We all have different tastes, so have more teas from which to select increases your chances of finding the one that suits you perfectly. Happy hunting!