The Assam region is in the north of India, and lies at a fairly low elevation. The low elevation and the heavy yearly rainfall and tropical temperatures in the region bring about a larger, broader leaf than other varieties, and the climate patterns also make the Assam region quite prolific, producing far more tea than other parts of India and China. Interestingly, the vast amount of tea coming out of the region broadened interest in tea across social classes in Britain. Prior to the discovery of the Assam sub-variety in India, China was the main source of British tea, but the discovery and development of vastly cheaper tea from the prolific Assam fields meant that tea was no longer just a drink for the upper class. The Assam sub-variety was reputedly discovered in 1823 by Robert Bruce, a Scottish adventurer, though the leaves had long been steeped and consumed by local Singhpo tribesman. Bruce died in 1824, but was instrumental in introducing the tea plantation system to India, and Assam tea to Britain.
Fortnum and Mason Assam Superb is a blended offering, featuring a fairly homogenized mix of teas from various estates within the region. It's a good blend, with a fair bit of golden tips, and brews up a typical cup of Assam, with a thick body, and lots of malt. Malty flavors and a huge thick body are the hallmarks of the Assam subvariety, and as you might expect, a homogenized blend from the region tastes very typically of those characteristics. Some single estate Assams have notes of dark fruit, jam or raisins, but the Fortnum and Mason feature notes of mild caramel, malt, oak, and honey.
Falling back on comparisons to Scotch (of course), this could be likened to a high quality blend; not as distinctive or flavorful as a single malt (single estate), but pleasant and more than serviceable (and usually cheaper). Score: 90 (A-)
I've gotten a bit behind on reviews, but I have two single estate Assams to review, courtesy of a order of sample sized pouches from Upton Tea Imports. Coming soon!