Assam Tea History & Health Benefits
No one can deny the outstanding contribution that India has made to the World of Tea over the course of nearly 200 years. In fact, from the age of the British Raj right through into the post-Independence era, this incredible nation has brought to light some of the greatest varieties of teas currently available on the market including Assam Tea.
However, there is one particular region which offers more than any other: The North-eastern state of Assam. A ‘brand’ unto itself, Assam Tea is marvelled around the world for its fine quality leaf and enticing flavour.
Famous for being a strong morning tea as well as a the main constituent in many Traditional Tea Blends, including English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast tea, as well as accounting for around 55% of India’s total tea output. But what makes this beverage so special?
What is Assam Tea?
Assam tea is derived from the Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica plant, the Indian counterpart to the Chinese variety, Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis, which grows in abundance across the entire state of Assam.
Although this spectacular region has, in recent years, been branching out in the production of green and white teas, it is most famously known for the long, twisted dark brown shoots that create its iconic Assam Black Tea.
This beverage is known for its bold, malty flavour and rich dark colour in cup, as well as the irresistible aroma that is unmistakably Assamese. Stronger than the teas grown in the neighbouring state of Darjeeling, Assam tea predominantly consists of two main ‘flushes’ which are produced on a yearly basis, as follows:
- Assam First Flush: Occasionally referred to as the ‘Spring Flush’, this harvest takes place in March, and will often continue into mid-May. The tea leaves are notably small, with its flavour considered to be especially delicate and floral. This flush is also quite rare on the market.
- Assam Second Flush: Harvesting the ‘Summer Flush’ usually takes place from Mid-May to June, and produces what is, arguably, a far more superior tea. It is known for its fine quality, full-bodied, and ‘tippy’ flavour, which is generally a far sweeter beverage to its Springtime counterpart. This flush is, without a doubt, the most popular.
The production of Assam tea is diligently monitored throughout the many stages of processing. This ensures that only the finest quality Assam Tea Leaves from the factory, time and time again.
During the second flush in particular, many of the Assamese factories work around-the-clock to keep up with the influx of tea leaves coming from their respective gardens. However, the general processing method for both flushes of Assam tea is, as follows:
- Withering: After the tea leaves have been delicately plucked from the gardens, they are immediately sent to the factory to be withered. This early stage in the processing sees the tea leaves thinly spread upon Hessian cloth, before being placed on wire mesh racks in what is known as the ‘withering shed’. They will remain safely stored away in these sheds until most of the leaves’ moisture content has become flaccid; accounting for approximately 96% of the tea’s original moisture.
- Rolling: Once the leaves have been collected from the withering sheds, they are placed into either Sirocco machines or CTC machines to be rolled. The CTC machines in particular, have the ability to simultaneously crush, tear, and curl the leaf with steadfast efficiency.
- Fermenting: This stage in the process will see the now-rolled tea leaves placed into trays to ferment and, in turn, oxidize under strict supervision. On average, this should take between one to two hours, with the overseers ultimately making the decision on the optimum time for its completion.
- Drying: Finally, the trays of tea will be placed under machines used to dry the leaves with hot air. This ensures that any remaining moisture is extracted before it is sorted into the different leaf grades and shipped from the factory. It will then journey to the farthest stretches of the world to be enjoyed as the delicious Assam tea we all know and love today.
Assam Tea Estates
Surrounded by the northern Himalayas, the Brahmaputra plains, and the Deccan plateau, the region of Assam is one of the richest biodiversity zones in the world. The state is frequently subjected to heavy rainfall (2500-3000mm, annually) and high humidity throughout the year.
This ultimately helps to develop the full-bodied flavour that markets across the world have come to love in Assam tea. The tea plantations that grow this blend can be found on either side of the river Brahmaputra, which stretches through India and into Bangladesh and China.
At an approximate elevation of 45-60 metres above sea level, the state of Assam consists of 312,210 hectares of tea production, making it one of the largest tea-growing regions in the world, with around 570 million kilograms exported every year! That accounts for roughly 13% of global Tea consumption!
Assam in India is also home to the world-renowned Assam Tea Festival, which takes place during the month of November every year. It is hosted in the city of Jorhat, occasionally known as the ‘Tea Capital of the World’ where a number of events take place to mark the State’s contribution to the global tea industry.
These include tea tasting sessions and plantation tours, as well as traditional music performances and other forms of on-stage entertainment events. There is also ample opportunity to explore the rich culture of Assam, with safaris into the jungle and river cruises presented as part of the winter festivities. Meanwhile, conferences are held in the city itself, with delegates from across the world attending to discuss some of the issues that currently face the Tea industry.
History of Assam Tea
To understand the history of Assam loose tea, is to explore the entire origins of tea growing in India over the course of two centuries. In fact, it was here in 1823 that a Scottish adventurer and merchant by the name of Robert Bruce discovered the Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica plant growing near Rangpur (present-day Sivasagar).
Intrigued, he would go on to clarify his findings with the Singpho tribe, the indigenous population of the region who would, in turn, present him with some of the plants as a gesture of goodwill. Bruce would then send these leaves from the plant to his brother, C. A. Bruce, for further examination. Eventually, the leaves would be studied at the Calcutta Botanical Gardens, where it was finally uncovered that this specimen was, in fact, a variant of the Chinese Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis plant.
Sadly, Robert Bruce would never fully see the fruits of his labour due to his untimely death in 1824. However, his legacy would continue, and by the late 1830’s, ‘The Assam Company’ was formed in England.
This refined establishment, with its headquarters in Nazira, is the oldest commercial Tea company of Assam – and is still functioning today! Meanwhile, the first Indian to start planting tea was Assamese nobleman, Maniram Dutta Barma, also known as ‘Maniram Dewan’. He would remain a Dewan of the Assam Company until his resignation in 1841, which saw him start his own tea estate.
His establishment would consist of two gardens at Jorhat and near Sonari, and he would oversee production until his death at the hands of the British in 1858. This was due to his role in the infamous Indian Mutiny the year before, for which Maniram was hanged. By 1862, however, the entire Assam tea industry comprised of 160 gardens, which were owned by five public companies and 57 private companies.
After India rightfully obtained its Independence in 1947, the vast majority of the British owned establishments would change hands to Indian entrepreneurs and businessmen. Over the course of the next 70 years, the Assam tea industry would thrive under the new leadership despite the political upheaval that had wrought the landscape for many decades.
Today, tea plantations remain greatly affected by the explosive environment in Assam. In fact, the Militancy found within the region has had a momentous impact on Assamese exports, with many tea gardens abandoned due to uncertain conditions. Furthermore, tough competition in the international markets, falling prices and recurrent slumps have also damaged the local industry in recent years alone.
Yet, despite this, Assam Loose Tea has developed from its humble beginnings to become a giant within the global market. Its incorporation into numerous different blends ensures that Assam is here to stay, and remains a key contender in worldwide tea trade.
Health Benefits of Assam Tea
It is no secret that the well-documented benefits of Assam tea are as varied as the many brews it is used in. Packed full of incredible antioxidants, all blends of Assam tea have the ability to combat free radicals found within the body.
As well as this, also known for containing a wealth of vitamins and minerals which can provide the consumer with an additional boost. However, if that is not enough for you let’s explore how the frequent consumption of this wonder brew could help you with your day-to-day life.
- Improved Mental Alertness: Like most other Black teas, Assam tea contains relatively high quantities of caffeine. This stimulant can help you remain at peak capacity throughout your daily routine, whilst also improving your overall concentration levels. Meanwhile, Assam Tea also contains an amino acid known as theanine, which can help to relax your mind in times of stress. Combined, these two elements maintain balance within your beverage; the same way you maintain balance within your day!
- Improved Cardiovascular Health: The flavonoids found in Assam Tea have the ability to prevent the buildup of plaque inside arteries, thus reducing the risk of Cardiovascular disease. As well as this, the antioxidants in this beverage may help to strengthen blood vessels and, ultimately, lower blood pressure! However, if you have a pre-existing heart condition, it is urged that you consult a doctor before consumption.
- Improved Oral Health: Rich in fluoride, Tea can prevent bacteria and viruses that could harm your teeth and gums, provided it is consumed as an unsweetened beverage. Merely drinking a cup of Assam tea after you eat could help to rinse away any food particles that have stuck in your teeth, as well as potentially strengthening the bone structure! Further to this, the frequent consumption of Assam tea can help fight bad breath, so be sure to have a hot brew before you go on that date!
- Weight Loss: When consumed as part of a healthy and active lifestyle, Assam Tea could help you lose those extra pounds before summer! This is because Assam Tea can accelerate your metabolic rate, thus burning fat far more rapidly. With a faster digestive system, your body will be able to absorb less fat or sugars from foods, ultimately leading to an enhanced ability to lose weight while eating healthily and exercising frequently.
- Fights Infection: Feeling a little under the weather? The best thing you could do for yourself is to brew up a hot cup of Assam tea. This is because Assam Tea may help to boost your Immune System and build up your defences.
The effective antioxidant properties found within this brew particularly Epigallocatechin Gallate (EGCG) – will also help you to combat those nasty symptoms associated with colds and the flu. Further to this, the addition of honey, especially with children who have a sweet tooth can enhance the effects with the health benefits of both components, combined!
Our Family Heritage in Assam
The Smith Family who run the Company today have a long heritage with Assam and India. In the 1920’s Richard Smith’s Grandfather Mr Robert Stammers sailed to India to work on the Assamese Tea Estates.
Whilst being a Tea Planter he was also part of the Assam Light Horse Brigade leading up to partition, keeping the citizens safe from tribal disruptions in the district. Ultimately becoming the General Manager of the Behora Tea Estate. Mr and Mrs Stammers retired from Assam to the UK in 1958.
Daughter Janet Smith and husband Mr Malcolm Smith stayed in India continuing the family connections with Tea. Mr Malcolm Smith became the Managing Director of the Warren Tea Company based in Calcutta. Upon their retirement to the UK they started The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company in 1982 with son Mr Richard Smith. Today 35 years later in 2017 the company is still run by the Mrs Smith and son Richard.
From the vast gardens of Assam to your morning cup, we are here to provide you with only the finest quality Assam Loose Tea available on the market. So, why not begin your adventure with our very own Assam Tea Dirok Estate TGFOP1? With the Assamese tea estate of Dirok located in the North East of the Tinsukia District, you can expect classical malty notes with a beautiful, large leaf and full-bodied flavour.
Another favourite Estate of the Smith Family is of course the Behora Tea Garden with its very fine current production of a Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, Assam Tea Behora TGFOP
Perhaps you would prefer a combination? Then why not try our Garden of England Afternoon Tea? A quintessentially Kentish blend; with a twist! Incorporating tea leaves from the Indian regions of Assam and Nilgiri, the Chinese province of Zhejiang, as well as blends from Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula and Uva, in Ceylon, this beverage has a fresh citrus bouquet with deep ripe blackcurrant overtones; almost impossible to resist.
However, if you prefer to keep things simple, then perhaps our very own House Assam blend is the one for you. With its lingering malty flavours, this indulgent beverage has a smooth taste that delicately massages your palette with every sip. An excellent choice to help you get out of bed, this Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe is often used as a base ingredient for a number of other blends, including English Breakfast Tea!
With our wide selection of Assam teas ready for you to browse through at your leisure, you can rest assured that we will have the blend that meets all of your tea-needs, whatever they may be!