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It’s all black and white – 4 new teas from Assam

Our new teas from Assam have arrived since I wrote about them in my last post. Because we were so impressed with them, I thought an in-depth introduction would be appropriate (click on the images for a larger view).

Assam is a province at the foothills of the Himalayas in northeast India and its diverse landscapes range from tropical jungle and deciduous forests to extensive wetlands. Its dominant geographical feature is the majestic Brahmaputra River which passes through Assam on its journey from the headwaters in Tibet to its confluence with the holy river Ganges. Most tea estates are located along this ecologic and economic artery in the lowlands of Assam. Our new Assam teas were produced by the fair-trade certified Rani Estate in Lower Assam close to the border with Bangladesh and Satrupa Estate in Upper Assam.

Together with Southern China, Assam is the only region in the world with its own native tea species, Camellia sinensis var. assamica. Unlike teas from the neighbouring province of Darjeeling, Assam teas are grown at low altitudes which give them a fuller body with generally pronounced malty notes. While most Assam tea is produced for the commercial market (mainly as the major ingredient of English Breakfast or Irish Breakfast blends), some estates specialize in producing high quality artisan teas. Single estate Assam teas have a strong global following and the best teas can demand high prizes.

One of our four new Assam teas was produced at a small tea garden in western Assam, Rani Estate. Rani Estate produces its tea in accordance to biodynamic farming principles and is fair-trade certified. As part of the biodynamic approach, only about a third of the estate’s total area is actually cultivated with tea while the other two thirds are mainly covered by rainforest through which elephants and tigers roam. The tea estate also hosts fishponds for aquaculture, a piggery and dairy farm. It is completely self-sustained in its energy requirements since it generates its own power with a small hydro-power plant. Most of Rani’s employees take advantage of the free housing options on the estate itself and the workers’ children attend the garden’s own elementary school.

Organic Assam Delight (Rani Estate SFTGFOP)

 [ IMAGE: Organic Assam delight black tea ] This magnificent biodynamic tea redefines your perception of smooth! In fact, smoothness is its most distinguishing property in my opinion. The liquor is beautifully copper-coloured and sweet. It is comparatively light for an Assam tea and shows hints of fruity notes but has a full, malty aroma.
Due to the fruity sweetness and relatively light body, I would recommend this tea to people used to lighter teas like green, white or Darjeeling black teas who want to expand their horizon.

Organic Assam Delight $13.50 / 100g (to purchase, please visit our ordering page)

The other three new Assam teas were produced by Satrupa Estate. This estate is Assam’s eastern-most tea garden, located to the northwest of the Buridihing Reserve Forest, the last undisturbed continuous area of tropical rainforest in the Himalayan foothills. The estate doesn’t rely on environmentally straining mono culture but also grows a host of seasonal vegetables as well as fruit and rice on its grounds. Like Rani Estate, it offers childcare and medical facilities as well as an elementary school for its employees. About a third of Satrupa’s employees live on the estate which supplies free housing for these families. A special place amongst the regular residents belongs to a 65-year old elephant by the name of Lokhi who calls Satrupa Estate his home.

Cream of Assam (Satrupa Estate SFTGFOP-1)

 [ IMAGE: Cream of Assam black tea ] This wonderfully malty tea contains a high percentage of golden tips (oxidized leaf buds) which are so prized in Assam teas. Almost as smooth as the Organic Assam Delight, it strikes me as more of a “masculine” tea. This might be due to the fact that the tannins are slightly more pronounced or the hint of smoke lingering in the flavour. But there are also some floral/citrus notes – like the smell of magnolia blossoms – present in its aroma. The infusion has a deep colour and almost creamy viscosity which complement the full flavour of this tea. My tip for a very special Assam experience!

Cream of Assam $15.80 / 100g (to purchase, please visit our ordering page)

Golden Namsang (Satrupa Estate GFOP-1)

 [ IMAGE: Golden Namsang Assam black tea ] This tea is made from larger whole leaves than the previous two teas. It contains a good proportion of golden tips and has a great character. When we first tasted this tea, the pronounced citrus-notes reminded us of some very refined Earl Grey blends (where the Bergamotte scenting is done more subtle than in the average qualities), but achieved without the artificial flavouring. This character comes through in both aroma and taste and is paired with a light sweetness reminiscent of raw sugar. Its full body and wonderful briskness makes this tea possibly the best choice for people looking for a great everyday tea.

Golden Namsang $12.10 / 100g (to purchase, please visit our ordering page)

A Leaf & A Bud (White tea, Satrupa Estate)

 [ IMAGE: A leaf and a bud Assam white tea ] This style of tea would be classified as Bai Mu Dan if it were from China. People who know me personally know that I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to tea. And traditionally, white tea was only produced in a very small area in Fujian Province in China. Until recently, that’s where we were usually sourcing our white teas from. We’ve made exceptions in the past for some great white teas from Darjeeling; but this year we’ve tasted so many very impressive white teas from many different tea-growing regions that I’ve come to revise my opinion and open my mind to other areas as well.
Amongst all these outstanding white teas, A leaf & A Bud from Satrupa Estate was amongst the most memorable ones. Its attractiveness starts with the beautifully processed dry leaves. Not only the buds are covered with the distinctive silvery-white fur, but almost all of the first leaves (this tea is made exclusively of bud / first leaf-systems) are so young and tender that they haven’t yet lost their protective fur.
Like our white Darjeelings, this tea packs all the regional characteristics of great Assam teas (minus the maltiness, of course) into a much more subtle infusion. The pale liquor has a definite Assam flavour and the aroma displays refined notes of citrus fruit. Despite its lightness, the infusion is comparatively rich and would lend itself to being a good introduction to the world of white tea.

A Leaf & A Bud $16.50 / 100g (to purchase, please visit our ordering page)

Assam Sampler Package

We also offer a sample package with 20g of each of these teas for those of you who wish to try them all. Drinking them side-by-side is a great way to explore both the differences and shared characteristics in this select group of Assam teas.

Assam Sampler $17.00 / 4 x 20g (to purchase, please visit our ordering page)

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  1. Pingback by Quest for the Super Tea | Ya-Ya’s Tea-Board | 2011/09/21 at 08:08:54

    […] What’s the most expensive tea you’ve got? Well, from a tea connoisseur’s point of view, that’s an understandable definition. But even for people who drink tea purely for the pleasure it offers them, this is the wrong question to ask! While price can be an indicator for the quality of tea (for a long explanation of why this is not necessarily so, read my posts here and here), it doesn’t tell you much. Too many factors influence the price of a tea: area of production (Indian teas from Darjeeling are usually much more expensive than those from Assam), rarity of the tea and type of farming/trading (organic farming / fair trade agreements to minimize the potential of exploitation of tea workers), just to name a few. Another factor – a factor that I regard as the most important one – is personal taste. Even though many people might agree that a certain tea is outstanding, it doesn’t mean that you will like it. In fact, we have several customers who like relatively inexpensive teas better than other, much more expensive ones (and are often surprised to find this out). This is a question of personal preference and it might well be that a fairly simple, easy-to-brew and inexpensive tea is your personal best tea. Just because I personally rank our Arya Ruby – which is not a cheap tea – amongst the best teas produced doesn’t mean that everyone will like it. I once had a customer who wanted to buy the most expensive tea we offered. Those of our readers who know me probably aren’t surprised of my reaction: I told him I wouldn’t sell him our most expensive tea. Instead, I suggested to try a few different teas to see what he liked, rather than using the tea as a status symbol based on its price. I’d much rather see him buying a tea (even a very cheap tea) that he liked than possibly disappointing an expectation of greatness based purely on something as subjective as price. He agreed to this and did indeed prefer a tea that had a different flavour than our most expensive tea. […]

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