In Upper Assam of north-east India sits the district of Sivasagar where the largest amounts of the best quality black tea in Assam are produced. Where other Indian teas like Darjeelings and Nilgiris flourish in the highlands, Assam teas are grown in low floodplains. Rich clay soils, carried down by the Brahmaputra River from the mountains of Tibet, are fed by monsoonal floods from May to October, which yield lush tea bushes that are harvested between April and November. The height of the picking season is one of the hottest and wettest periods of the year with temperatures soaring as high as 38°C. This humid, greenhouse-like terroir is what gives most Assam teas their characteristic strong brews and deep malty palates.
Included amongst the 119 tea estates of Sivasagar district is Hajua, an estate best known for its wonderfully tippy leaves, which produce a rich and smooth flavour profile. Referred to by the Assamese as the “shelter of the swans”, the 199 hectare Hajua estate is also renowned for being the first fully clonal tea garden. Clonal teas come from plants that have been propagated through cuttings rather than seedlings and demonstrate a consistently high quality and fuller flavour. They are also cultivated to withstand drought, flooding, disease, and pests.
Assam teas are quite unique in that they do slightly differ from the standard tea plant found in other tea growing regions. The fact that all tea categories (black, green, white, oolong, etc) come from the one plant, Camellia sinensis, has long been ingrained in the teachings of tea. However, there are two varieties that stem from the species: Camellia sinensis var. sinensis and Camellia sinensis var. assamica. The original Camellia sinensis plant was native to China but the broadleaf assamica variety was discovered by the British in the 1820s in the jungles and along the banks of the Brahmaputra River. Of course the people of the region were utilising the plant long before the British, not just brewing it into tea, but cooking and eating it as a vegetable. Because the assamica variety is also grown in China’s Yunnan province, this suggests that the plant was most likely brought to Assam thousands of years ago by migrating tribes.
As the most productive tea-growing region in the world, Assam is responsible for about 13 percent of the world’s tea production. Specialising in commodity CTC tea (for teabags and blends) and orthodox tea (full, loose leaf tea), the demand for Assam teas has increased exponentially in the last two decades. Robust, cognac brews have made them especially popular amongst strong tea drinkers who enjoy something hearty to start the day and like taking their tea with milk and sugar. Or, if you’re the type that normally takes their tea with a slice of lemon, instead use a slice of orange in an Assam brew — the malty notes of the tea are better complemented by the sweeter citrus.
The Tea Centre’s Assam Hajua is a beautiful, high quality black tea as identified by its attached grade, SFTGFOP (Special Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe). This is indicative of only the finest and smallest whole leaves used to go into this single-origin tea. The Hajua estate does not produce an abundance of orthodox leaves, which is what makes this exceptional tea all the more special.
Not just an amazing infusion to sip but a source of culinary inspiration for one of our TEAm. Janikka, from Indooroopilly, cleverly injected the exquisite flavours of Hajua into this scrumptious Hajua and Honey Pound Cake recipe — a must try.