Assam tea is one of the most famous teas around, known for its malty taste and use in various tea blends.
Growing up, Assam tea was one of my favorites and despite all the types I have sampled, it continues to be my top Indian tea. In this post, I will share just what is so great about Assam, how it compares to other kinds, and how to make the perfect cup.
The first thing that you should be aware of is that there are two varieties of tea. There is the Camellia sinensis var sinensis which is the Chinese tea. Then, you have the Camellia sinensis var assamica, which is the tea found in the Assam region in northeast India.
What makes Assam tea quite so unique is that the tea is native to India. It is predominantly used to produce black tea. At the beginning of the global tea trade, tea was only grown and processed in China. This meant that the British Empire could only source tea from this country, with which they had an uneasy alliance.
Discovering Assam as a tea growing region allowed the British to control the tea trade. Now, Assam tea is grown in other countries such as Sri Lanka and Africa. However, the specific climate of the Assam region, allows the tea plant to grow particularly well.
Now, it has become one of the largest tea growing areas in the world. This has led to the tea being used in a wide variety of other blended teas. Not to mention, the unique taste is instantly recognizable.
The climate in this valley of the Brahmaputra river, provides high humidity, warm temperatures, and a signficant amount of rain from June to October. If all the growing conditions are met perfectly, the tea leaves can be harvested every 8 to 12 day throughout the year. Thus, the yield of this tea plant is much higher than others.
This tea tends to be harvested twice a year in tea gardens. These periods are referred to as flushes. The first flush is during late March or early April. The second flush which takes place at a later period, is the real prize, though. Some refer to it as tippy tea as the leaves sprout gold tips. The flavor of this tea is considered to be more complex and tastier than the first flush.
Tea experts will tell you that one of the most defining notes of Assam tea is its malty flavor. This complex flavor is quite unique to this type and instantly noticeable in many blends as well.
Of course, the exact flavors can depend on how the tea is grown and processed. Due to this, it isn't unusual to also uncover notes of earthiness and smokiness. Some strains may also have hints of chocolate, cocoa, caramel, or even spices to it.
It is quite unusual to find pure Assam tea - or at the very least, too many people don't drink it in this manner. Individuals who are used to milder teas may find the tea to be a bit too bold. Nevertheless, there is also the fact that Assam tea acts as a wonderful base. It is strong and that hint of malt really kicks the flavors of the other black teas up a notch.
You will often find Assam tea is available either in loose leaf form or in tea bags. In general, the loose leaf Assam tea does tend to be of a higher quality. The taste and aroma is undeniably better and allows you to brew a far superior cup of tea.
Of course, that is not to say that tea bags don't have their place. These work well if you enjoy stronger teas with a hint of bitterness. What's more, tea bags stand up far better to the addition of milk and sugar than loose leaf tea.
As you are well aware, there are several other types of black tea. Let's take a look at how Assam black tea compares to these other popular blends:
One of the main differences between Darjeeling black tea and Assam tea is that Darjeeling is actually derived from the Chinese variety. It is simply grown in India. As a result, this tend tends to be lighter in flavor. It is often described as the Champagne of tea by tea experts.
Although of the Indian variety, Nilgiri black tea is cultivated in the South of India under different conditions. Also, some of the strains may be slightly different to those found in Assam. Therefore, the resulting Nilgiri tea is fragrant and floral.
As the name suggests, this black tea is actually cultivated in Sri Lanka, under different soil and weather conditions. Nevertheless, on the surface, they may appear to have some similarities. Dig a little deeper and you will find that Ceylon teas are bolder and have a more robust flavor.
The first thing that you need to know about all breakfast teas is that they are black tea blends. This simply means that each one is a blend of various kinds of black tea that has been sourced from all over the world.
On that note, yes English breakfast tea does contain some Assam tea. However, the main ingredient here is Ceylon tea. Then, what about Irish breakfast tea? Now, this blend does contain a significant amount of Assam black tea. This is why it has a stronger and maltier flavor to it. Although it isn't always the case, some Scottish breakfast blends do contain Assam black tea as well.
Now, since Assam tea is a black tea, does this mean that it has a high caffeine content? Well, each 8-ounce cup boasts about 80mg of caffeine. Nevertheless, the actual caffeine content can vary from one brand to another. In general, though, this does put this tea at the higher end - it has more caffeine than green tea, Darjeeling, and some other kinds of black tea. It still has considerably less caffeine than coffee, though.
Now, let's take a look at the health benefits associated with Assam tea:
A significant number of chronic health conditions are a result of inflammation in the body. Black tea contains antioxidants such as catechins and flavonoids which work to fight free radicals that can damage cells, cause inflammation, and accelerate aging. Due to this, drinking Assam tea could help to ward off any disease linked to this issue.
There is some evidence that the polyphenols in Assam tea offer reduced risk of heart conditions such as atherosclerosis. It may help to lower unhealthy cholesterol levels and stop plaque from building up inside blood vessels. In turn, this may be able to stop heart attacks, cardiovascular diseases, and perhaps even strokes. It should be noted that most of these studies were carried out on animals. Thus, further research needs to be conducted on the potential for human treatment.
Keep in mind that a lot of the research that has been done towards tea as cancer prevention is preliminary. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that shows that drinking Assam tea on a daily basis may be able to ward off lung cancer, skin cancer, and more. There needs to be more research into whether it is just as effective with breast cancer.
It is believed that certain enzymes play a role in the degeneration that is noted in Alzheimer's disease. There are some studies that show that black tea can have an inhibitory effect on these enzymes. As such, they may be able to stop the onset of the disease or, at the very least, slow the degeneration. Naturally, more work has to be done in this area.
It is believed that polyphenols in Assam tea can help to increase the population of good bacteria in your stomach. The reason that this is a good thing is because the good bacteria helps to fight off the bad bacteria that may enter your system. This means that you are far less risk of developing gastrointestinal infections.
At the same time, Assam tea has components that can help to fight off the bacteria that causes dental caries. Thus, if you consume Assam tea regularly, you may be able to improve your oral health in general.
As mentioned, Assam tea can be rather high in caffeine. Due to this, there can be some side effects associated with drinking too much of the tea. This includes increased heart rate, the jitters, and general irritability.
Caffeine also has the potential to throw off your sleep schedule. This is why you may want to limit your intake to two or three cups a day. If you are especially sensitive to caffeine, you may want to cut down on your consumption further.
Furthermore, you should avoid drinking tea any later than the afternoon. Instead, consume the tea during the mornings. This will give your body plenty of time to rid your system of the caffeine, before you need to go to bed.
Now, let's look at the best brewing method for this tea:
It all begins with the water - make sure to use cold, filtered water for the best taste. You can use about 8 ounces of water, per person. Heat the water until it begins to boil. Take the kettle off the heat.
To a cup, add one and a half teaspoons of loose tea leaves or one tea bag. Pour in the hot water and allow it to steep for about five minutes. If you wish for a stronger brew, add more tea leaves or tea bags but don't let the tea steep for longer than recommended. This will give it a bitter flavor.
If it is your first time trying this tea, try it plain to get a better understanding of the taste. However, it is quite common to add milk and sugar to the full bodied brew. Just make sure that you don't mask the malty taste while doing so.