This week, I am getting ready to move cities. Truth is, I haven’t had to move very many times. I moved cities once, when I was barely a teen, and all my worldly possessions fit in one bag. They were of no value—sentimental or otherwise. The next big move came when I got married; I took my dogs and books. This time around, I catch myself studying my tea collection, wondering how much I can carry, what I will definitely want to drink, what I will definitely feel the urge to try, and, also, what will make a new place feel like home.
And nothing feels more like home than Assam tea. Earthy, sweet, dark with deep aroma, it’s always reliable—and always a pleasure. I usually go for a mix of orthodox and CTC, the combination balancing both flavour and body. This season, however, I decided to indulge.
The Mangalam Gold from Upper Assam, famous for its orthodox teas, is a prized summer flush tea from the well-known garden. Over a call with Gopal Kumar Sharma, president of Jayshree Tea’s Upper Assam gardens, I learn that when the current owners (Jayshree Tea) took over in 1955, there was some extra land. Named Mangalam, it was planted with high- quality clones, including the famous P-126, which is chosen for its high concentration of tips, and for producing a light liquor.
Tippy orthodox teas, he says, need a lot of pubescence, the downy hair on the leaf surface. When the tea leaves are fired during processing, the leaves almost turn black but the fine hair turns gold, giving the tea both the flavour and the name. Sharma says the bushes are pruned every year, with trained hands plucking the leaves to ensure no shoots are left behind, and the leaves don’t break.
The Mangalam Gold looks like a little bag of treasure. Made of only coppery gold buds, it has a sweet aroma and is without question a tea for the connoisseur, someone who appreciates the hard work that goes into planting, tending tea bushes, fine plucking and careful processing. It’s to be enjoyed without the distraction of sugar or milk. With a dark, almost burgundy liquor, it does represent the best of an Assam—rich, smooth and malty. It’s a tea I plan to carry with me, even if only to sprinkle like a bit of gold dust to an everyday cup, to remember and to savour.
These teas are often picked up entirely by the export market. However, with tea gardens choosing to retail directly to the consumer, they are sometimes available on the producers’ websites. Look for Mangalam Gold on Jayshreetea.com. If you would like to explore this speciality among Assam orthodox teas, the clue is in the word “gold” in the tea names—check if your favourite tea retailer has them.
Tea Nanny is a fortnightly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. @AravindaAnanth1 on Twitter.
Also read | A muscatel from the land of CTC