What is Assam tea?
Assam black tea, often just called Assam tea or Assam, refers to black tea produced in the Assam region of India. Although the Assam region produces a tiny amount of green and white tea, an overwhelming majority of teas produced in Assam are black teas, and the term “Assam”, when used alone, is synonymous with Assam black tea.
Assam tends to have a strong flavor and a rich aroma that is usually described as malty. However, there is a great deal of diversity among Assams, owing to both small and large differences in altitude, soil conditions, and growing methods between the different estates and gardens that produce tea in the Assam region. In general though, Assam tends to be a stronger black tea, which leads into our next topic.
What makes a good breakfast tea?
There are numerous different types of breakfast teas on the market. The most common varieties are named English breakfast and Irish breakfast; less commonly one will see other types, like Scottish breakfast or Chinese breakfast. The main characteristic that these breakfast blends have in common is that they tend to be rich and strong in flavor.
“English breakfast” is a term that is mostly used in the United States, and refers to what the English just call “tea”. This style tends to be a robust, powerful black tea, full-bodied, strongly caffeinated (although still much less than coffee). Irish breakfast tends to be stronger, and accordingly, it often contains more Assam. Some Irish breakfast teas are made exclusively from Assam; this is a lot less common with the English breakfast style.
Where is the Assam region?
The Assam region is located in northeastern India, at the center of the part of India that is somewhat detached from the rest, surrounded by Bangladesh, Nepal, Tibet, China, Bhutan, and Myanmar (Burma). Assam lies in a river valley, at a lower altitude than the other famous tea-producing regions in this area (which include Darjeeling). The lower altitude is one of the major factors that lead to the characteristic flavor and aroma of Assam, but Assam tea also tends to be grown from a different cultivar of the tea plant, called the Assamica cultivar. It is both the particular cultivar and the climate of the region that contribute to the strength and characteristic aroma of Assam black tea.
Teas similar to Assam:
There are two regions of the world that are often considered to produce teas “similar” to Assam. I place the word “similar” in quotes because tastes are subjective and I am sometimes skeptical of these claims, especially after having sampled numerous black teas from all of these regions. But the two regions that come to mind most strongly are Yunnan province, which produces Dian Hong or Yunnan red teas, and Kenya. Personally, I think Dian Hong, black tea from Yunnan province, is the closest tea to Assam that is widely available, whereas Kenyan black teas are a bit more different. Some Ceylon tea (from Sri Lanka) also has similar strength and characteristics as well. Both Yunnan and Kenyan teas are also common ingredients in breakfast blends like English or Irish breakfast.
Assam is a particular type of black tea grown from a region of India, at a lower altitude, and from a particular cultivar of the tea plant. Assam tea tends to be strong and tends to have a malty aroma. Most breakfast teas contain some Assam and the strongest ones, such as Irish Breakfast, often contain more of this tea. Similar teas include Yunnan Red (Dian Hong) and Kenyan black tea, and Ceylon can also be similar. If you like strong breakfast teas, you would likely enjoy Assam, either on its own or blended with other teas.
Alex Zorach is the creator of RateTea, an interactive website where anyone can rate and review teas. This site has a database of teas classified by brand, style, and region, with a wealth of information about different varieties of tea. Visit this site’s page on Assam black tea to read reviews and locate different sources for buying Assam, including both blends and single-estate teas.
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