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Sunday, 8 January 2017

2017 a year of tea

This is not a new year resolution. Just wanted to make that clear, because I don't subscribe to that self-defeating nonsense. This is something I've been thinking about for a while, and having a full 12 month period to carry out my research seems a good way of structuring it.

What research, I hear you ask. Tea.

I am a black tea purist (though I do like a drop of milk) and I find fruit 'tea' is a lot like drinking hot water with twigs in. But throughout 2017 I intend to try a new tea each month, and write a little post about it with some information for anyone else who might be interested. Having said that, I'm cheating a bit with my January tea because it's my favourite: Assam.

Assam tea is grown in the Assam region of India.
From: http://www.peasantautonomy.org/assam-overview.html

The tea comes from a single specific species, Camellia sinensis var. assamica. The first tea plantation was established in Assam in 1837, and traditionally Assam has been the second largest tea producing region, with southern China being the largest. The region is heavily forested, and home to rhinoceros among other wildlife. Unlike other tea bushes, Assam is generally grown in lowland regions. It is these conditions that make the area a prolific producer of tea - the collective estates produce 680,400,000 kg of tea annually.

Assam tea has a strong flavour, often described as 'malty'. It is commonly used in blends known as Breakfast Tea, particularly in Irish Tea. 

Early imports of Assam tea were mainly through the British East India Company. At that time, China tea was seen as the 'ideal' and Chinese plants and methods of cultivation were brought into Assam. This proved largely unsuccessful and eventually a hybrid of Chinese and Assam plants was established as the variant used today. The plant has larger leaves then its Chinese counterparts. Harvesting is usually done twice each year: the first harvest is in March, and the second to harvest the tips of the new shoots which give a sweeter and full-bodied tea is carried out later in the year.   

Currently I'm drinking Marks & Spencer Assam Tea (though I would say it's cheaper if you visit the store than if you shop online with that link), as Assam can be hard to find in other supermarkets. 
  • Waitrose offer both standard Assam in boxes of 50 and 100 bags as well as loose leaf, and Golden Tippy in packs of 15 pyramid bags. 
  • Twinings offer Assam including a 'nutty chocolate' blend.
  • Whittard of Chelsea have a range of second flush or 'Tippy' products.   
  • Imperial Teas have a range of interesting Assam teas from a number of gardens (plantations). I haven't tried any yet, mainly because they use a courier delivery service and items must be signed for. I'm sure postal delivery would be adequate, but anyway....
  • Boston Tea Party offer one of my favourite Assam teas. If you want to buy your own stock, then the Canton Tea Co. is the place to go.
As this is the first of my Tea posts, just a note on how to brew black tea. If you are going to use a teapot, small is beautiful. A bigger pot just encourages you to leave the tea steeping for longer than it should, so a pot for one or two cups is ideal. Leave your big family-sized teapot for the PG Tips and Yorkshires of the world.

Make sure you warm the pot with hot water first. Hot water from the tap is fine, but leave it for a few minutes so that the pot is hot to the touch on the outside. Empty the pot just before your kettle boils and then pop your tea in.

Use water that has literally just boiled, but is not actually boiling. I've seen people state that 95 degrees C is the ideal temperature, but I'm not going to stand there with a thermometer! If you put your tea in a warmed pot and then put the teapot lid on, as soon as the kettle has boiled take the lid off and pour the water from the kettle directly on to the tea. Stir, particularly if using tea bags. Wrap the teapot in a tea towel folded double, or pop a tea cosy on, and leave for 3-4 minutes. The trick really is not to over-brew otherwise the flavour becomes bitter.

I'm not going to comment much on adding milk or sugar except to say it's completely up to you. Just remember honey and stevia have their own taste that will have to compete with the tea.