“Assam is the tea I am the most proud of in our entire range,” two leaves and a bud CEO and founder Richard Rosenfeld says. “It’s a great sweet, tippy, malty, but organic Assam, and it’s an ongoing project with me. With every flush, our Assam gets better.”
Where is Asssam?
What makes Assam what it is? Let’s start with the region of Assam. Look on a map — Assam, India, is in the far northeast of the country. Assam is in the Brahmaputra River Valley, which means the water that flows through Assam is from the Tibetan plain, and the soil is rich with nutrients. The tea grown there is in intense heat and humidity, much like in a greenhouse.
It’s hard to write about Assam without comparing it to that other famous tea named after a region in India — Darjeeling. Black tea is black tea, right? Oh no, not according to people who love tea. Richard says the first time he tasted the two side-by-side he noticed a difference immediately. Geographically, Assam and Darjeeling are only about 100 miles apart, but their climate is entirely different as Darjeeling is in the foothills of the Himalayas. Therefore, tea from Darjeeling takes on entirely different qualities.
“What’s it like to visit Assam?” I asked Richard. It’s a dangerous place, he says, as they have something like 27 separate insurgencies going on at once. “In the gardens we work with, people are walking around with scars from bullet wounds. They are all fighting for separate things,” he says. “It’s a poor region, and their main export is tea. But if we’re buying better quality, more expensive tea, we feel we’re sending more money back to the gardens.”
Finding quality organic tea in Assam
Add one more challenge to the mix: our affinity for organically grown tea. “In Assam there are a lot of tea mosquitoes (a bug that’s actually not a mosquito at all) that eat the plants. So it’s the economics of organic Assam tea that drives bad quality product, not good quality,” Richard says. See, for the highest quality organic tea, a tea garden must be grown from scratch, which takes seven years to harvest tea. Instead, many tea purveyors take over an old, existing tea garden with lesser quality tea and turn it into an organic garden, because that only takes three years to start producing organic tea. But that means the tea from those gardens isn’t nearly as good.
Why isn’t it “English Breakfast”?
Of course, when I started working here, it was just the name “Assam” that confused me. Why does two leaves and a bud sell “Organic Assam Breakfast” instead of “English Breakfast”? The answer involves a bit of history: the English brought the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, to India from China, and so the British Raj drank it at breakfast. As popularity of the drink expanded, the term “English Breakfast” became known as a marketing term for a blend of black teas. At two leaves and a bud we stay away from blending this tea with lesser quality tea leaves because we like Assam just the way it is — whole leaf and from a single source, for the best flavor.
“I know it is the best organic Assam available — it’s the tippiest, the maltiest and the sweetest, without any smokiness,” Richard says. “I drink it every day.”
Many people do. Do you? And how did you discover two leaves and a bud Organic Assam Breakfast?