Assam is a region in northern India stretching to both sides of the Brahmaputra Valley. It is the largest tea producing region in the world. The first harvest of the year begins after a lengthy rest in February with the First Flush. Assam’s First Flush is fresh, aromatic and more full bodied than Darjeeling’s First Flush. The higher quality and better known Assams are picked during the Second Flush harvest – from the end of May until the end of June. The Second Flush teas are strong, full bodied and malty in flavour ranging in colour from copper red to dark brown in the cup. Assams can be enjoyed with sugar, milk, lemon or honey – or on its own. Second Flush Assams are quite often the base for many black tea blends.
The region of Darjeeling lies in north-east India on the foothills of the Himalayan mountains. It is for many tea drinkers the key word for top quality well balanced tea. From the region of Darjeeling come without a doubt some of the most valuable teas in the world. Many of the approximately 100 tea plantations in the area are as famous as some of the great vineyards of France.
The tea is harvested 800 meters to well over 2000 meters above sea level. It is only at the highest altitudes that the best teas can be harvested. The quality is naturally also dependant on climate, picking and the manufacturing process the leaf is put through.
From November until March the crop rests. Depending on the weather, beginning in March, the First Flush is produced for four to six weeks. Good First Flush Darjeeling tastes delicate, fresh and flowery. Every estate in Darjeeling produces distinctive teas of varying quality.
At the beginning of April, the in-between is plucked which combines the flowery characteristic of the First Flush with the roundness of the Second Flush.
Second Flush teas are picked from the end of May until the end of June. It brews a golden brown liquor and has a smooth round flavour with a nutty aftertaste. Darjeelings are best enjoyed on their own – but if you prefer, a little sugar can be added.
Teas produced in Sri Lanka are still referred to by the countries old name – Ceylon. Representing approximately 60% of the countries exports, tea is an important commodity in Sri Lanka. The most important tea plantations are located in the central highlands.
Ceylon teas are divided into three basic categories: low growns are grown under 650 meters; mediums grow between 650 and 1300 meters; and high growns from 1300 to 2500 meters.
The six main tea producing districts are Galle, Ratnapura, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula and Uva. Each region produces teas with their own individual characteristics.
Low grown teas are of good quality, have a good colour and strength but lack in the distinctive flavour and taste of the higher grown teas. The low-grown teas are usually used for blending. Mid-grown teas are rich in flavour and have a good colour. High-grown teas are the very best with a rich golden colour and intense flavour.
Ceylon teas can be enjoyed on their own or with a little milk and/or sugar.
China has been cultivating tea for over 5000 years. Tea is grown almost everywhere in China. Most of the green tea as well as the Oolong teas come from the provinces of Anhui, Zheijiang and Fujian. The black teas – which are almost all exported, are produced in the provinces of Yunnan, Hunan and Sichuan. China black teas tend to be slightly smoky, sweet and full bodied. The most famous of the China blacks is Keemun.
China is the only tea producing country that produces Jasmine, Rose,Lichee and Osmanthus tea. The tea leaves are dried and steamed with the respective flower and to absorb aroma and flavour.
Tea was introduced to Japan in the 9th Century by Buddhist monks who brought it back with them from China. The most important plantations are in the region of Shizuoka – picture perfect on the foothills of the holy mountain Fujiyama. Almost half of Japans’ tea is harvested here – particularly Sencha.
Other important regions include Kagoshima and of course Kyoto . Kyoto supplied teas to the Emperor’s palace hundreds of years ago and today supplies the world with some of Japan’s best teas including Gyokuro as well as some of the highest quality Senchas.
Japan only produces green teas and at varying qualities as well as price ranges. Not all Senchas are for example equal to each other. The general rule of thumb when assessing the quality of Japanese green teas is the greener the tea the better the quality is.
Africa is one of the younger tea producing regions of the world – but already producing 15% of the world’s tea. Teas produced in Africa however tend to unfortunately mostly be CTC teas. CTC – crush, tear, curl – processing forces the leaves and other plant matter through large toothed wheels which literally tears the leaves allowing more oxidization to take place. The result, is a stronger faster brewing tea with a deep colour which are then used in teabags.