Moving down the dual valleys of the Brahmaputra and the Barak, slow and steady as the divine waters, as the rivers approach their destination – the Bay of Bengal, we stop by to find peace and solace in the beautiful place called Assam. Situated in the southern part of eastern Himalayas, this spectacular tourist place attracts visitors in huge numbers from all over the world.
Talking about Assam, the first picture that comes to anyone’s mind, is of the famous Assam tea, owing to his/her preliminary knowledge. In a country with dominant holy culture, where beverages are still limited to rather tea and coffee, one might miss what the capital of the tiny state is, but its contribution to the production of tea cannot be ignored by anyone.
This part of India experiences high precipitation during monsoon, the tropical climate is particularly suitable for the unique malty taste of the tea produced in Assam. Assam tea is famous for this unique taste, the briskness, the flavour and the brightness.
The culture of tea production in Assam was first introduced by the English East India Company. This reform encouraged employment as well as income in large amounts in the north-east India. Since those days, they follow a different time zone, which is one hour prior to the Indian Standard Time, keeping in mind the early sunrise.
Assam is the largest producer of tea in the world, which is why it is also titled as ‘nature’s tea factory’. Produced from the bush Camelia Sinesis, Assam tea can be bifurcated into two categories : orthodox and CTC, depending on the manufacturing process.
What does it take to manufacture any product? Sure the answer goes as capital, raw material, equipment, labour etc. But that is not all when it comes to producing tea. Tea plucking is a fine art. It includes years of experience and technical know-how. Also, good quality tea is a liable to good quality leaves. The quality of leaves depends on the pedigree and health of the bush.
Being a small state, relying mainly on tea production other than tourism for income, these are few things of shear importance in Assam, yes, they master the skills of tea plucking and pamper the plants to the best of their ability.
The crucial step in black tea production is ‘fermentation’ in which the juices in the rolled leaves are allowed to darken from contact with the air. A similar process occurs when a cut apple turns brown. The dark substances that form while the tea leaves are exposed to the air is produced by the chemical reactions of the tannins in the tea. The leaf is spread out and left to wilt, losing some moisture, stiffness and much of its weight. Then it’s rolled, exposing essential oils to the air and starting the oxidation process. When the leaves have transformed sufficiently, then they are ‘fired’, dried over heat to stop the oxidation process. The quality of tea leaves is usually tested by the colour and the taste.
Being a delicate and mainly humanised process, the tea industry in Assam not only adds to the GDP, but also to the amount of employment in the region.
How ‘tippy’ the tea is, is actually a measure of the grade/quality of the tea. The more tippy the tea, more is the percentage of buds (which appear like golden flecks), and more expensive it is. The sub categories of Orthodox tea are:
- Flowery orange pekoe
- Orange pekoe
CTC is the acronym for Crush, Tear, Curl. This method is used to increase the volume of tea.
In India, as we have already discussed, the most popular beverage is tea. It therefore is no source of surprise that India is the largest consumer of tea in the world. Also, it comprises of around 12% of the world exports in tea.
Because it is black tea, very healthy and nutritious, having delicately produced with skills, Assam tea is valued even more in and around the country. Apart from being the largest producer, it is also the second commercial producer after China.
Assam tea is basically black tea, often sold as ‘breakfast teas’. For example, the English breakfast tea or the Irish breakfast tea contain different types and sizes of Assam tea.
Assam supplies its valuable and world renowned tea right from small democracies to huge continents. USA, UK, Russia, Germany, Iran, UAE, Pakistan, Japan, France and Canada are among the top importers of tea.
Right from the sweet, melodious songs of the river water, to the sensational anthems of the birds in the morning time, from the warmth and love of a true Assamese, to the brightness of the sun upright, everything is so much in synch with the description of this heavenly place which being in the East of the country, gives it the true definition of sunrise and symbolically welcomes every morning with its natural beauty and tea-culture it has, is just as much in flow with the picture. Assam is for sure nature’s tea factory but not one with the noise, machines and pollution, but one with nature’s true blessings, a scenic spot making the culture and heritage of India.