What makes a tippy tea?
Full-bodied and flavourful, with a distinct maltiness, tippy teas are perfect for a robust palate
If there’s a kind of tea I return to often, the firm favourite in my collection, it’s the tippy teas. It’s hard to say “tippy teas" without a chuckle but my loyalty is to the tea, not the curious moniker.
Tippy teas are simply teas that have a sizeable proportion of tips to leaves in them. More tips equal more flavour. Tippy teas also refer to the second-flush Assam teas, pointing to a higher grade of black tea, as in TGFOP (tippy golden flowery orange pekoe), FTGFOP (fine tippy golden flowery orange pekoe) or SFTGFOP (super fine tippy golden flowery orange pekoe).
So, what makes a tea tippy? A short tea-making lesson here: If Darjeeling’s high altitude is home to the Camellia sinensis var chinary, the Assam valley made fertile by the mighty Brahmaputra abounds with the native species, Camellia sinensis var. assamica. These plants are hardier than their chinary counterparts, with larger leaves and distinctly different flavours. Only the newest leaves are plucked for a good orthodox tea.
You may have seen photographs of tea gardens with a plucker holding the two leaves and bud. But there are no buds in tea bushes. The bud is actually the newest leaf, still unfurled, straight and sharp, and yes, budlike, right at the tip of the bush. It packs flavour. And in summer, Assam’s tea bushes put out a lot of these tips.
As the banjee, or dry period, ends around now, tea gardens in Assam will get ready for the second flush, the peak season for tea in these parts. Lockdown rules have been relaxed for tea gardens and workers are making up for a lost spring flush. The second flush, beginning now, will go into July.
A tippy orthodox Assam has dark, wiry leaves with a good sprinkling of matte-gold tips. The infusion is a rich, coppery red, with a lovely sweet aroma. The signature attributes of this tea are that it’s full-bodied, flavourful, with a distinct maltiness, and sweet like honey or dates. A muse to the poet, no less. For our palate, more at ease with robust rather than subtle flavours, tippy teas are an easy choice. Drink them plain, sweetened or with milk. And as with other orthodox teas, do not discard after a single steep. These are good for two-three infusions and the flavours change with each steep.
So how do you choose an Assam tippy tea? Given that Assam produces half the teas in India, the choice is pretty vast. There are storied estates like Chubwa, Harmutty, Halmari, Doomni, Mangalam, Balijan and Zaloni whose teas never disappoint. At the other end are the affordable and great value-for-money brands like Assamica Agro. This season, I am looking forward to trying Rujani Tea, the house brand from Aideobari Estate. I am also eagerly awaiting this year’s batch of the tea that took top spot last year as far as I was concerned—the fine, handcrafted Royal Gold black tea from Latumoni by Tea Leaf Theory.
Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.