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What Is Assam Tea?

By S. N. Smith
Updated May 16, 2024
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Assam tea (Camellia sinensis var. assamica) is a black tea grown in Assam, India. With a distinctive malty flavor and a bold and invigorating character, Assam tea is a particular favorite for use in breakfast teas. English Breakfast tea and Irish Breakfast tea are both types of teas that are often partially or completely composed of Assam leaves. Assam tea possesses a beautiful ruby-amber hue.

The Assam bush grows in a lowland region, in the valley of the Brahmaputra River, an area of sandy soil rich with the nutrients of the floodplain. The climate varies between a cool, arid winter and a hot, humid rainy season—conditions ideal for it. Because of its lengthy growing season and generous rainfall, Assam is one of the most prolific tea-producing regions in the world. Each year, the tea estates of Assam collectively yield approximately 1.5 million pounds (680,400 kg) of tea.

Assam is generally harvested twice, in a "first flush" and a "second flush." The first flush is picked sometime during late March. The second flush, harvested later, is the more prized "tippy tea," named thus for the gold tips that appear on the leaves. This second flush, tippy tea is sweeter and more full-bodied and is generally considered superior to the first flush tea. The leaves of the Assam bush are dark green and glossy and fairly wide compared to those of the Chinese tea plant. The bush produces delicate white blossoms.

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, without having seen the plant properly classified.

It was not until the early 1830s that Robert's brother, Charles, arranged for a few leaves from the Assam bush to be sent to the botanical gardens in Calcutta for proper examination. There, the plant was finally identified as a variety of tea, or Camellia sinensis, but different from the Chinese version (Camellia sinensis var. sinensis).

Soon after, the British began to make inroads in tea cultivation in Assam. Originally, tea seeds were imported from China, believed to be superior to the local wild variety. After a period, however, a hybridized version of the Chinese and Indian tea plant developed that proved to be the most successful in the climate and terrain.

By the late 1830s, a market for the new Assam tea had become established in London, and pioneering tea planters, Charles Bruce among them, set to clearing swaths in the jungle and laying out their great tea plantations. Today, there are over six hundred tea estates, or gardens, producing tea in the Assam region.

To brew a perfect pot of tea, start with cold water. Never use water that has already been boiled — the end result will be tea that tastes flat and lifeless. If using tap water, let run for a few seconds before filling the kettle. Bring the water to a boil. While the water is heating, fill a ceramic or china teapot with hot tap water and let sit for a few minutes to warm the pot.

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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Discussion Comments
By anon948799 — On May 02, 2014

Harvest goes on from March till November. There are many flushes. with the important ones being First Flush, Second Flush, Rainy Flush and Autumnal flush.

By discographer — On Mar 01, 2011

@fify-- Both Darjeeling and Assam are in India, in fact they are close places where tea is harvested, but they are not the same. Assam tea is the original Indian tea but it was not harvested until much later and all of India used to harvest and use Chinese tea. I have relatives who harvest tea in Darjeeling, they use a combination of Chinese and Assam seeds and the result is Darjeeling tea. Also, there is a difference in the way the two teas are cultivated.

I have never mixed Assam with any other tea. I mix Assam with spices like cardamom, cloves, stick cinnamon, ginger and black pepper sometimes. I have seen organic breakfast tea in the UK and US though that have a combination of black teas including Assam.

By fify — On Feb 27, 2011

Is Assam tea same as Darjeeling tea? I know that they are both Indian teas but I don't know what the difference is. Also can Assam black tea be combined with other teas? I enjoy mixing teas together like chamomile and mint. Which teas would go well with Assam?

By ddljohn — On Feb 25, 2011

I enjoy drinking Assam tea in the mornings, not only for the bold flavor but also because it wakes me up. I found out that Assam tea has more caffeine than regular black tea, so that explains why I like it so much. Since I rarely have breakfast, I have my tea with milk and honey, its a good start to the day.

I've been using Assam tea bags but I'm curious about loose tea. I need a teapot and a strainer before I try it. It might be a good idea to use loose tea because sometimes I drink two cups after one another, or I have guests that I serve tea to. Loose tea would probably be more efficient.

By overreactor — On Jan 09, 2010

The first crop of the green tea in China is also the best during the month of March. I happened to be there at harvest time.

So it seems that Assam tea and the green tea are harvested at the same time. Assam is south westerly of the Chinese tea growing region.

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