Assam is located in northeast India and through this India State flows the mighty Brahmaputra River. Assam is the home of the tiger and the one-horned rhino. It is jungle and it is magnificent mountain. It is the worlds single largest tea-growing region, producing more than 1,700,000 pounds of tea annually. Most of this tea is commercial in quality but that is NOT to say that it is all of commercial grade. There are some stunning, absolutely stunning, high quality (and very expensive) teas produced in this tea wonderland.
Assam, as with Darjeeling, has a first flush and a second flush. The first flush has a rich and fresh aroma; the second flush produces the famous "tippy teas." It is this feature of the teas of the second flush which makes them more popular. (Tippy refers to black tea with gold tips or what appears to be golden-colored leaf). The amount of tip will vary dependent upon where in Assam the estate from which the tea comes is located. Additionally, not all tea estates have the ability or capacity to produce "tippy teas."
The golden tip present in Assam tea, tends to lessen the astringent characteristic of the tea and make it sweet and smooth. Therefore, Assam tea can be malty, sweet AND smooth, which are qualities enjoyed by all tea drinkers.
The production of black tea, of which Assam is only one, can be divided into two categories: (1) Orthodox and, (2) CTC (Crush, Tear and Curl). Tea produced using the Orthodox method is valued most by the international market. About 80% of the Assams I feature are produced using this Orthodox method. The remainder is tea I use in blends.
CTC teas are, for the most part, consumed in the India domestic market primarily because making tea in the India method is done by boiling leaves in a mixture of milk, water and sugar and some spices (producing a Chai of Masala) and the CTC teas produce a rich red color when they are boiled, thus adding a beautiful color which comes through the white of the milk but yet does not produce a bitterness (in that preparation).
Orthodox teas SHOULD NOT BE BOILED AS A CHAI ABOVE. They must be steeped (infused) according to individual taste preferences but as a rule of preparation, from at least 2.5 to 5 minutes.
Most of the Tea Gardens in Assam (and for that matter the Nilgiris in the south of India) are now geared to produce that which sells best domestically but not particularly well internationally. The manufacture of CTC is more profitable even though it sells for considerably less than the Orthodox because care is not needed; the Gardens are after all, not producing rare tea but rather a large amount of fairly common tea.
Because of the above, very good Assams are often rare. Tippy teas are being produced but they are only of marginal quality, yet they demand very high prices.