Sunday, February 5, 2012

Single Estate Assams

Happy (rather belated) one year birthday, tea blog.  Many happy returns.

I haven't forgotten or forsaken the tea blog, just been on a bit of a hiatus.  Babies, work, lots of cups of coffee, trying to squeeze the occasional condensed exercise in there somewhere, but very little tea, and no writing to speak of.  I've worked my way through an order of samples from Upton Tea Imports, so I have notes to write a few good reviews, but not so much the time lately.

So, Upton Teas is a local, Massachusetts company with a large warehouse less than an hour from here.  I've looked at their site from time to time, but never really gotten around to ordering, at least until the weather got cold and I got a hankering for East Frisian tea, a dark, thick, malty blend that's perfect for dismal, wet weather.  East Frisian blends can be hard to find, but a cursory web search brought me to Upton Teas, and I thought to myself, I've been meaning to try them for a while.  Now, I subscribe to the notion that if you're going to get a small amount of tea, why not get a small amount of a bunch of teas?  It costs very little, is a great way to explore new teas, and it gives me lots and lots to write about.  Luckily, Upton has a huge selection, and I ended up with ten small sample pouches at my door in less than 48 hours.  Great service, and as it turns out, great tea...this company takes loose tea pretty seriously.

To start working my way through my backlog of notes, let's talk Assam...single estate Assam.  In tea parlance, single estate means the tea comes from only one plantation.  In the past, I've compared them to single malts, though do to the seasonal nature of tea, most batches are also from only one year or growing season, so perhaps a single barrel whisky is a more apt comparison.  We've talked about Assam a little bit before.  In the past, I've always found it to be a sturdy, robust tea that takes well to milk and serves as the backbone for many a strong, bold breakfast cup.  It's solid, reliable, and can be a bit bland.  I thought the last until I finally tried some single estate Assam, anyway.

Banaspaty TGBOP
Tippy Golden Broken Orange Pekoe, quality broken leaf pieces with plenty of golden tips.  Broken leaf teas lose perhaps some nuance of flavor in exchange for a stronger, more intense cup, so I'd be very curious to try a full leaf variety here, but no matter, as is this is possibly the best cup of tea I've ever had.  Dark, reddish brown in the cup, with a full, chewy yet never chalky mouthfeel.  The flavor is malty and fruity at once, with a wonderful natural sweetness.  Malt and oak, perfectly balanced with an amazing thick blackberry jam flavor.  Banaspaty kept bringing to mind port wood aged Speyside malts with its combination of malt and dark fruit.  It was excellent both black and more so with milk, and the jam notes really shone with the addition of a little sugar...maybe half or a full teaspoon.  I would get this tea again and again, though there are of course many other Assam estates to try.  Score: 99 (A+)

Brewed with water at a full rolling boil,  one teaspoon to a six ounce cup, and a shorter steep time than most black teas, at only three minutes.  The smaller leaf size does tend to brew up rather quickly, and I suspect five minutes might allow some bitterness to seep in.

Numalighur TGFOP1
Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, full leaves with plenty of golden tips...the 1 denotes highest quality.  A full leaf tea, which brews up a slightly lighter cup than the Banaspaty.  The Numalighur has a more complex profile than the Banaspaty, with sweet malt notes mingling with dark raisins, easily reminiscent of a sherry aged Speyside or Highland malt.  Less oak than the Banaspaty, and a touch drier in the mouth.  Although the body is a little lighter, the finish lingers a bit longer.  I hesitate to use the word, but a more "elegant" cup than the Banaspaty, though not necessarily better.  Another tea I will definitely get again!  Score:  95 (A)

Brewed with the same parameters as the Banaspaty, but the full leaf size calls for a longer steep...I had success with five minutes.  Again excellent black, as well with milk and a bit of sugar.  I think the sugar made less of a difference here than with the Banaspaty.

These are two truly fantastic teas.  I should never have waited so long to try single estate Assams...I think I have a lot more exploration through the area, and I currently have a new favorite tea.  More to come!


  1. It looks like this tea can be found on Upton Tea's site here:

    I like the Scotch analogies to understand what "estate" means. That Banaspaty sounds wonderful!

  2. Thanks, I added in the links into the original post.

    It's really an amazing cup, I can't overpraise it. Tasting was a revelation, quite like the first time I had a proper dram of Balvenie. So that's what the really good stuff tastes like!

    I hope I'm not overstretching the Scotch analogy. I think it fits pretty well for year-round production areas like Assam. It does get more confusing with different flushes (harvests) in other areas like Darjeeling, but I far prefer Assam to Darjeeling.