ASSAM, THE LARGEST TEA-GROWING REGION IN THE WORLD
Assam is a state in the north-east of India and at the same time the name for one of the most famous teas. The Assam Valley is one of the rainiest areas in the world and is only about 150 metres above sea level. The heaviest rainfall is usually in September with temperatures reaching over 35°C; the warm, humid climate creates ideal conditions for tea cultivation. Assam is encircled on three sides by high mountain ranges; only in the upper north is there a land connection to India. Apart from tea, which accounts for 60% of India's total tea production, rice, sugarcane, cotton and oilseeds are grown.
THE FIRST TEA IN INDIA
The beginnings of tea in India go back many millennia. At first, people tried cultivating tea bushes from China, which were actually considered undemanding and uncomplicated, but the tea plant Camellia sinensis simply did not want to thrive in the tropical climate and the harvests were not satisfactory. By chance, it was discovered in the mountainous regions of Assam that they already had a wild-growing species of tea plant ? more of a tree than a tea bush in its natural state. The cone-shaped tree sometimes reaches heights of up to 15 metres and the root system reaches depths of up to 6 metres, which guarantee its stability. It absorbs water and nutrients through its lateral roots. Now there was a plant species that already lived in these special climatic conditions and so, through crossbreeding, the tea plant could be bred: Camellia assamica.
On the plantations, the plants are kept low by regular pruning. This results in densely branched bushes of about 1 metre, which have a comfortable picking height. The leaves are large, strong and somewhat leathery. The white flowers, up to three centimetres in size, exude a beguilingly lovely aromatic fragrance. These then develop into nut-like, three-edged fruits with a woody husk containing the seed. As this tea plant was considered to be very fast-growing and productive, general interest in it was very quickly aroused. Unfortunately, however, it was discovered that the Camellia assamica tea plant only produced excellent harvests in its native climate. Through new crossbreeding and breeding, the resulting Assam hybrids are now considered the hardiest and most productive tea plants. The tea is harvested at precisely defined picking intervals and with the utmost care. Mainly female workers are employed for this purpose. The skilled tea pickers know how to harvest only the strongest and healthiest tea leaves with their nimble fingers. This is particularly important to ensure that each harvest is as equal as possible. The sidar, as the foreman is called in India, therefore inspects each plucking before it leaves the tea field. After the harvest, the fresh leaves are spread out on shelves or on a loom with circulating warm air. In this way, some of the moisture in the leaves evaporates and they become as soft as leather. Then, by mechanically rolling the leaves, the cell walls are broken open and the escaping juice is brought to fermentation in combination with oxygen and air. To further promote this reaction, the rolled, still green leaves are spread out on floors in relatively cool rooms. Fermentation is crucial for tea production. It reduces the tannin content and activates the tein that gives tea its stimulating effect (like caffeine in coffee). The aroma carriers, the essential oils, can fully develop.
As soon as the leaf reaches a copper-red colour, fermentation is interrupted and the drying process begins. In special hot air systems with temperatures of up to 150°C, the cell sap is thickened. The previously green leaf is now dark brown to black with a moisture content of only four percent. The tea is then sorted into four leaf grades: Leaf tea, Broken tea, Fannings and Dust. These determine the quality and the name of the individual teas. For the most part, Assam teas are used as the basis for East Frisian tea blends. It is considered to have a strong taste and a dark cup. We would particularly like to recommend our "Ostfriesen Broken", which is somewhat milder for an Assam blend.
If possible, use soft water with little lime. If the water is very hard, a water filter will also help or use still mineral water from the bottle. Bring the water to the boil. In the meantime, rinse the teapot again with hot water before pouring the tea into the pot. This has the advantage that the aroma of the tea can develop better. If possible, always use the same teapot for preparing black tea and rinse it only briefly with hot water after use. Additives such as washing-up liquid or other cleaning agents would only destroy the aroma. Now, depending on taste and strength, add half a teaspoon to a lightly heaped teaspoon of tea per cup to the preheated teapot. Pour over fresh, bubbling water, about 1/4 of the teapot, that the tea can float freely well. Tea strainers or tea filters should not be used with black tea, if possible, although it is practical. The tea simply develops its flavour and full aroma better when it floats freely. Now let the tea steep for 3-5 minutes. Then add as much freshly boiling water to the teapot as you have provided per person in cups. You can now strain the tea into a serving pot, or leave the tea in the pot and use a tea strainer when pouring. East Frisian tea is drunk with a Kluntje (rock candy) and a touch of fresh cream.