Thursday, 13 May 2010

Tempering my Assam

Here's a tea review for you. Sort of. It's an anti-tea review, actually. And then a traditional review. Or as traditional as I'm capable of. I've already written a bit about Assam Greenwood. It's not a bad tea, but it's not to my taste. The best way to describe it is that it's too bitter for me. Now some say all black tea is bitter. Or that it depends upon steeping time. Or that it really depends upon which specific black tea you're talking about. All of these things are true. Certainly some black teas are less bitter, and the more developed your tongue, the better you can differentiate the amount of bitterness.

But what is the bitterness? It comes from the tea tannins. It's not tannic acid. It has nothing at all to do with that. The chemical compound is one of the things which makes tea so healthy. There are many other chemicals involved, some of which we know about. Many we don't. But many black teas are loaded with these bitter tasting tannins. Herein lies the problem. I like the Assam Greenwood, but it's too bitter. There's something about it that's just a bit too much.

A blend recipe

So now I'm going to describe the simplest of blends. Some of you seem interested in this, so I'll tell you what I'm doing. If you can't get these exact teas, try this with an Assam that has a lot of tannins. Ask your tea-seller which one. Then take another Assam that's definitely not so bitter. The ones I've been using most are Assam Hajua and Assam Khongea. The Hajua is stronger, and although it tempers the tannins quite nicely, this is not a light tea. Not by a long shot. But when you mix these two teas (1 part Greenwood plus 1 part Hajua/Khongea), it takes away some of the bitterness. Not all of it, but certainly the lion's share.

Like I said, you needn't try and get these exact teas from these exact plantations. Just because you find a tea online or in a shop that comes from Khongea, definitely does not mean that you and I are drinking the same tea. Two teas from the same plantation can have incredibly different qualities. It depends upon what season, as well as what year. And not all the plants are identical. Both your Khongea and mine will have the characteristics of what I'm describing, but they'll never be identical.

Assam Khongea

For an Assam, this is a surprisingly subtle tea. Like most, if not all, Assams, this has a taste of malt. No matter how smoothly in goes down, there will always be a bit of earthiness in an Assam. This one is typical on both counts: smooth and malty. It's certainly worth trying. I had multiple pots of straight Khongea today. Still prefer that to any Greenwood or highly tannic blend I've tried.

Would love some feedback on this. Try blending a few black teas. Whether the ones I've mentioned or the ones you already have in your pantry. Let me know.


  1. I am glad you can be my place of advice for indian (assam) teas!
    While I know my fair share, I do not drink them as often as chinese or taiwanese teas.
    Assams have yet to grow on me.
    The only indian tea that I am really looking into are Nilgiri teas. There is something about them that I find quite entrancing. No other way to describe it!
    As far as blending goes, I have not had the right kinds of teas for blending (in my opinion) besides herbals.

  2. Our favorite Assam is Orangajuli. Every afternoon. Supplies apparently are short this year - we've just survived three months without it before a new supplier popped up. That was not easy!

  3. You've intrigued me BobL. I have to try this.

  4. I will try to blend black teas together and get back to you with the results.

  5. I also don't know much about the individual Assam estates...I'm still very inexperienced with them. By contrast I've tried a lot more single-estate teas from Darjeeling. But reading this motivates me to get into these teas. I often have avoided Assam because most of the Assams I've tried have been very tannic and just too brute force for me...but I would like to try some of the smoother ones. I like strong teas, there's just something about the Assams I've tried so far that has seemed a bit too harsh.

  6. The two Assams that I've had the best luck with are Khongea and Hajua. The Khongea is malty and tannic, but so much less so, that people really seem to like it.