By Courtney Van Evera
In 1788, a Dutch botanist named Joseph Banks, wrote “You know, the Assam region of India has perfect conditions for growing tea.” Unfortunately, he was ignored.
But, thankfully, his words weren’t ignored forever.
The difference between Camellia sinensis assamica and Camellia sinensis sinensis is that the former is indigenous to the Assam region of India, and the latter are native to China. C. sinensis assamica has big leaves and grows robustly in the humid, sea-level climate of Assam. The tea is known for it’s marked flavor, strong and full, with notes of chocolate, caramel, malt and pepper, depending on the cultivar. When Assam teas undergo unorthodox production by machine rather than by hand, the brew has less risk of astringency, and the result leads to tasty chai blends!
So, who finally decided to listen to Joseph Banks about the tea growing potential of Assam?
Two Scottish brothers, Robert and Charles Bruce, who were like the Indiana Jones of their day when they decided to seek adventure by way of military exploits: Robert via the army and Charles via the navy. This sent the elder brother, Robert, to the Assam region of India in 1823, as it had been overtaken by an oppressive Burmese ruler and the British thought it an opportune time to colonize. In 1823, no one from Europe was “authorized” to be in India except for the East India Company and military personnel. While in military service, Robert explored as much of northeast Assam as he could and engaged in trade along the way. While in Sibsagar in northeast Assam, a local Singpho tribal chief told Robert about the wild tea trees in their midst. Before he could investigate, Robert Bruce died.
The story does not end there! Robert’s younger brother, Charles, also found himself in Assam, commanding gunboats to fight the Burmese. Before his death Robert had successfully relayed the new tea information to Charles and in 1825 he gathered samples of native Assam tea, sending them to scientists at the botanical garden in Calcutta – but no one cared. Those involved with the tea industry thought Indian tea to be inferior to Chinese tea. Scientists also tried to cultivate Chinese tea plants in Assam, which failed astoundingly.
Finally Britain’s Tea Committee, while searching for sources for tea outside China, decided to see if C. sinensis assamica could produce commercial amounts of tea and they appointed Charles Bruce to head the endeavor. His official title: Superintendent of Tea. This time, it worked! With the help of Chinese tea makers, Bruce produced eight chests of tea which withstood the perilous sojourn down river to the botanists in Calcutta. From there, the tea sailed to London, where it was sold for a handsome return. Thus, in 1839, the Indian tea market was born. Eventually, Assam tea would become a key ingredient in English, Irish, and Scottish breakfast tea.
At Happy Lucky’s we treasure our three teas which stem from C. sinensis var.assamica. Grab a cup of any of these exceptional Assams and toast to the Bruce brothers from Scotland!
Indian Assam CTC Black Tea , a classic unorthodox production tea, organically produced and Fair Trade Certified. The flavors are bold and warming, with hints of chocolate and black pepper. Unorthodox teas, while having astringency, are typically not as sensitive to over brewing, making them a very popular choice for blending, most notably used in masala chai.
India Khongea Second Flush Assam Black Tea, picked in the months of May and June, is a high quality second flush. Harvesting a specific variety of P126 clonal tea plants produces a large proportion of beautiful golden tips. The liquor is golden in color with malty and spicy flavor notes which come through well when adding milk. This tea makes a great breakfast tea.
India Malty Assam Black Tea renowned for its full flavor and rich, malty aroma. The Assam region is the largest tea producing region in the world and home to some of India’s best black teas. The varietal Camellia assamica has a larger leaf than its Chinese counterpart. The brew is bold and malty with a slight caramel sweetness.