A friend told me that a cup of tea is the reason she gets out of bed every morning. Many mornings, it’s what rouses me too. That first cup of Assam black and the joy and comfort I find in its sweet, familiar aroma and taste. But there’s more brewing in Assam that is well worth celebrating—for Assam tea is into its 200th year.
Many tea farmers are experimenting and not all that they come up with makes it to the market. Some are made-to-order or small-batch teas. If you come across a tea you want to try, just write to the producer. Almost all of them oblige.
I tried a first flush tippy black tea from Rajen Baruah’s Assam Heritage Tea in Dibrugarh. Its long, well-rolled leaves, sprinkled with golden tips, are aromatic and full of flavour. The season’s special is their Green Needles, a first for me. The long, dark green leaves look like they have just been lightly and gently processed. Baruah says he makes it with leaves chosen from a special cultivar and by hand, via “a time-consuming and laborious process to shape each leaf”. It brews a lovely light and clean cup. At ₹2,500 for 100g, it’s one of the most expensive Indian teas I have bought. For a green tea buff, it’s certainly a tea to try (email email@example.com).
I have always enjoyed Sailen Phukan’s black teas. On Facebook, photographs of his strawberry harvest at Latumoni village in Dibrugarh were interspersed with images of what looked like droppings. Phukan has been experimenting with tea pellets.
Take three-four in a strainer and just pour hot water over it to make a cup. It can be re-steeped a couple of times. These were green tea pellets, clean, vegetal flavours with none of the bitterness that Indian green tea tends to have (order via WhatsApp at 8472009320; ₹320 for 100g).
Speaking of ease of brewing, in Sibsagar, Woolah Tea continues to excite with its bagless tea dips—single-serve leaf teas compressed into little cubes and attached to a string ( ₹450 for an assorted pack of 15 teas on Woolahtea.com).
There are experiments, some to improve tea quality and get better prices for farmers, being conducted with CTC (crush, tear, curl) tea, which is used extensively to make chai. I tried the outcome of one from a factory in Udalguri where the day’s plucking is measured for quality by a fine leaf count (FLC). The higher the FLC, the better the tea quality. The tea is available at ₹499 for 500g of Assam Microlot on Iron-kettle.com.
Bhaskar Hazarika’s Hookhmol Tea in Dibrugarh continues to be a CTC to reckon with. Unfortunately, he doesn’t retail, selling only at auctions. Look for it on Absolutetea.in. The other Assam CTC I enjoy is from Koliabur (Amazon.in, ₹400 for 500g), where Shekib Ahmed is busy experimenting with technology for process innovation and greater digitisation, something quite new to this sector.
It’s great to see Assam’s new generation of tea producers up the ante. And it shows in their tea.
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.