Our Sunday focused Tea Tasting: Assam

On Sunday, February 24th was our monthly tasting, and this month we had the pleasure of exploring the northern Indian tea growing region of Assam.  Along the banks of the Brahmaputra River can be found the beautiful tea gardens that produce the distinctive, full bodied, bold, malty flavors with a touch of fruitiness that we have come to associate with Assam teas.  The classic Assams follow this flavor profile, but we also enjoyed some rare atypical examples of this region.  A highlight of the afternoon was a slow-cooked Masala style Chai, made of course with Assam.  Wherever you go in India, you will find marvelous examples of hand-made, slow simmered Masala tea.  Everywhere you turn, there will be a slightly different recipe for Masala tea (the word chai simply means tea, but in the US it has come to be commonly used for Masala style tea) each one a masterpiece.  Many versions are made by first simmering water, tea, and spices for a period before the milk gets added, others by simmering the milk for an extended period as well.  This second approach is my preference, and the one we served.  Most of the spices commonly found in Masala blends are fat soluble.  Slow simmering in milk allows a wonderful depth of flavor to develop.

Assam teas are grown at a relatively low elevation, roughly 500 feet above sea level.  This explains the bold, full-bodied Assams that go so well with the addition of milk and sweetener.  Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica is native to this region, observed growing wild in Assam by Scottish Botanist Robert Bruce in 1823 after attempts to grow the China bush, Camellia Sinensis Sinensis were meeting less than ideal results.  In India, and elsewhere, it can often be found hybridized with the more common Camellia Sinensis Sinensis.

Assam leaves may be finished as either Orthodox or CTC (Cut, Tear, Curl), with Orthodox style typically offering more complexity and CTC offering more assertiveness.  The teas that we enjoyed during the February tasting were all Orthodox style, but those of you who enjoy your tea particularly strong, to stand up to a LOT of milk, such as in Irish Breakfast blends, may enjoy exploring CTC styles of Assam teas as well.  Speaking of Irish Breakfast teas, that is the topic of our St. Patrick’s Day tasting on March 17!

As promised to our guests during the tasting, below you will find the recipe for our Assam based welcoming tea cocktail:

L’Espalier 24

1 1/2 ounces Assam Infused Beefeater 24
1/2 ounce Grand Marnier
1/4 ounce Absinthe (for rinse)
1/2 ounce ginger oolong simple syrup
3 dashes orange bitters

Pour Absinthe into chilled cocktail glass and turn to coat interior, pouring out any extra. Shake remaining ingredients with ice for 10 to 15 seconds. Strain into the Absinthe rinsed cocktail glass.

Assam Infused Beefeater 24

1 liter Beefeater 24
2 tablespoons Assam tea leaves, or other full bodied black tea

Place 1 liter of gin in non-reactive container. Add tea leaves. Taste periodically until desired strength is achieved. Probably around 2 to 3 hours. Strain multiple times through cheesecloth or coffee filters until no visible tea remains. Store at room temperature or chilled.

Oolong Tea and Ginger Simple Syrup

2 cups white sugar
2 1/2 cups water
1/4 cup chopped fresh sliced ginger
1 wedge lime
1 tablespoon Oolong tea leaves, preferably a smoky high oxidation Oolong

Place sugar and water into a saucepan. Stir sugar up from the bottom, squeeze in lime and add ginger. Place over medium-high flame and bring to a boil. Turn down to low and let simmer until a clear syrup is formed, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, add tea leaves, stir and let sit until cool. May be left overnight at this stage. Strain.