Friday, April 9, 2010

Assam Tea

Assam tea (Camellia sinensis var. assamica) is a black tea grown in Assam, India. It has a distinctive malty flavour with a bold and invigorating character. It is a particular favourite for use in breakfast teas like English Breakfast tea & Irish Breakfast tea. Assam tea produces a beautiful ruby-amber hue.

The Assam region is in the valley of the Brahmaputra River. Its sandy soil, rich with the nutrients of the floodplain and the climate varying between cool, arid winter and hot humid rainy season produces almost ideal conditions for the Assam tea bush. It has a very lengthy growing season making the region one of the most prolific tea producing regions in the world, yielding some 1.5 million pounds of tea annually.

The long growing season produces two harvests of tea each year. The 'first flush' is picked in late March. The 'second flush' is picked later and is more prized for its "tippy tea", named for the golden tips that appear on the leaves. The second flush, tippy tea is sweeter and more full bodied, thus considered superior to the first flush.

Discovery of the Assam tea bush is attributed to Robert Bruce, a Scottish adventurer, in 1823. Bruce reportedly found the plant growing wild in Assam while trading in the region. He noticed local tribesman brewing tea from the leaves of the bush and arranged with the tribal chiefs to provide him with samples of the leaves and seeds, which he planned to have scientifically examined. Robert Bruce died shortly thereafter.

In the early 1830s Bruce's brother, Charles sent some leaves from the tea bush to Calcutta for examination. The examiners determined the busy was a variety of tea and different from the Chinese tea. Soon the British started making inroads into the Assam area. Tea seeds were imported from China as they were believed to be the superior variety. These seeds crossed with the local seeds and produced a hybrid bush which proved to be the suitable for their climate and terrain

As with any tea, to brew a perfect pot you need to start with cold water. Let the tap run for a few minutes before filling the kettle. Bring the water to a boil. Fill a ceramic or china teapot with hot tap water and let site for a few minutes. My mother used to always insist on the first bit of water from the kettle being used to warm the kettle.

As soon as water begins to boil, remove the kettle from the burner. Discard the warm water from the teapot and add tea leaves to the empty teapot. For Assam tea, figure on 1 teaspoon (1 g) of tea leaves per cup (240 ml) of hot water. Pack the leaves loosely into a tea ball if desired. Pour boiled water over tea leaves into teapot. Let steep 3 to 5 minutes, and pour through a strainer, for loose tea leaves, into individual cups.

Assam tea is full-bodied and merges well with cream, milk, or lemon. If sweetener is desired, honey or sugar may be added prior to adding milk. Stir until dissolved.

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