Assam: The Tea With a Cult Following

This black tea from the land of Brahmaputra is not for the faint-hearted

Kalyani Sardesai

Abhradita Nahvi, management professor, academic and Assam chai aficionado has a fun anecdote to share about how and why she came to be nick-named "GT", short for Guwahati Tea.

Her father was at a tea auction on one of the best-known plantations for the famous Assamese tea--and could not make it on time to the hospital for her birth. And thus, she was nicknamed GT--as much as to mark the uniqueness of her birth circumstances--as to drive home a point.

Assamese chai is a cult that holds its own, in the hearts of believers and non-believers (meaning those who can't stand strong chai) alike. Either way, you can't ignore the black tea from Assam, the world's largest tea growing region that produces over 400 million kgs of tea annually, sprawled across both sides of the Brahmaputra river and bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Now 40, and a long way away from home, Abhradita's craze for the chai does not diminish. "Even if I were to go to a Starbucks or a Cafe Coffee Day, I would choose a good, strong Assamese tea over all else," she confesses. "If you have never tried it before, it takes some getting used to but once you start having it, you won't drink anything else."

"I would go so far as to say that Assamese chai is the single malt of the tea world. It's a cultivated taste and an equally unforgettable one," says Meena Purkayastha, a Mumbai-based dealer of tea. Purkayashtha ran her own tea cafe for about five years where the Assam number held pride of place. "No green tea, purple tea or white tea," she grins. "It's Assam tea I would recommend for wooing your lady love."

Though the region does produce green and white teas, Assam tea usually denotes the bold black number that is brisk, bold and malty. This is just the tea you need when you plan to stay up all night, exam or no exam.

The introduction of the Assam tea bush to Europe is related to Robert Bruce, a Scottish adventurer, who apparently encountered it in the year 1823. By the late 1830s, a market for Assam tea was being assessed in London. The cultivation and production of Assam tea in the first two decades (1840–1860) were monopolised by the Assam Company, which operated in districts of Upper Assam through the labour of the local community. Most of the tea estates in Assam are the members of which is the oldest and most prominent body of tea producers of India.

As per Medline plus, consuming 124 to 208 milligrams of caffeine per day -- about two to four cups of Assam tea -- significantly reduces the risk of Parkinson’s, while higher consumption provided a greater reduction of risk. For women, one to four cups of tea seemed to provide the greatest risk reduction.
Thanks to its cult status, Assam tea is widely available in both leaf and tea bag varieties and both are prepared similarly.

You add 1 teaspoon of the tea/1 tea bag into 8 ounces of water, bring the kettle to a boil, allow water to cool just a bit, then add the tea. Let this mixture settle for 3 minutes. Strain and enjoy!

Image Courtesy: Shuttestock
Image Conceptualised by Vartika Pahuja


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