Written by Felicity

Against the odds, this year’s edition of this crucial crop is very good

In any normal year, Tom would be enjoying the summer bustle of Kolkata right now. Instead, he's at home in London where for the last few weeks you would have found him on the phone almost every morning. He's been calling in to low-lying Assam and high mountain Darjeeling gardens, tracking down the teas that will make up our Assam Breakfast and – new for 2020 – an Organic Darjeeling Second Flush.

Every day for the last two months Tom's tasted between 20 and 50 different batches of the second flushes from these origins (follow his regular tasting table video updates). At this point he's still got a few more Darjeeling’s to work through, but we're delighted to report he’s selected the teas that will make up our Assam Breakfast – and is really pleased with the result:

“Spring 2020 has not been easy on either origin with a significant proportion of the crop lost during lockdown. Now, during second flush, in both Darjeeling and Assam very heavy rains are having a disastrous impact for many. Despite this, for a few weeks in early June, the weather was good in Assam and the teas that the gardens produced have been exceptional – this year I’ve seen more rich colour and intensity in the cup than usual – I’m really looking forward to introducing the 2020 blend.”

Tom & the garden manager tasting last year's second flush in the Harmutty tasting room.
Tom & Satyajit Bhuyan, the garden manager tasting last year's second flush in the Harmutty tasting room.
The gardens in both Assam and Darjeeling are always testing and looking for new clones of the tea bush that will be better adapted to new weather patterns
The gardens in both Assam and Darjeeling are always testing and looking for new clones of the tea bush that will be better adapted to new weather patterns.

Why is the Second Flush Season so important in Assam?

The second flush season is a period of only about two weeks in which the most distinctive-tasting and sought-after tea is produced. It is usually the first couple of weeks in June when there's the sweet spot between the spring flush and the monsoon rains. The best tea buds and leaves will have a golden tipped appearance after they have been processed which is indicative of the rich, malty and dried fruit flavours that Assam is known for.

Because Assam's tea gardens are predominantly low lying and clustered around the Brahmaputra river, the climate is humid, and they experience heavy monsoon rains which often flood the gardens. Excess water dilutes or washes out intensity from the tea leaves when they are growing. As this intensity is particularly important in the type of tea we’re looking for in Assam, teas after the second flush can decrease in quality.

“As a breakfast style tea, I want our Assam Breakfast to be rich and robust in flavour, texture and colour. I'm looking for an intense infusion with plenty of characteristic malt and dried fruit sweetness” – Tom

Dejoo Garden is on the North Bank of the Brahmaputra River, this tributary the River Ranga forms the eastern border of the garden
Dejoo Garden is on the North Bank of the Brahmaputra River, this tributary River: The Ranga forms the eastern border of the garden.

What about this year?

In early June, the weather was very good in Assam – a government ruling meant 100% of workforces were allowed back into the gardens, so they were able to produce some really excellent tea. These are the teas Tom has selected for our Assam Breakfast this year.

The end of June brought severe flooding in Assam. Although heavy rains are expected during the monsoon season (which does usually start in June), the extent and the early timing is an example of the more unpredictable and extreme weather patterns that many tea regions are experiencing more often (as we've reported in Japan and Ali Shan) and attributing to climate change.

In Assam, the effect on the local people is severe. Local news outlets and the BBC reported this week that this year’s floods have affected more than 2 million people.

Young tea plants,of a new clone, planted in 2018 being nurtured in Harmutty. Tea bushes need a few years to grow before they are used in production.
Young tea plants planted in 2018 in Harmutty. Tea bushes will be nurtured in nurseries for at least two to three years before they are used in production.

Why Assam Breakfast Matters

Finding the batches that make up our Assam Breakfast is one of the most important jobs that Tom does every year. He has to sift through and remember the tastes of so many batches so he can put the best combinations together to create this rich, robust and characterful blend. This particular tea is one of the best tools that we have to demonstrate the value – to tea drinkers and to producers – of our single origin approach.

You can read more about why a single origin approach matters here. In brief, the low-cost English Breakfast teabags we see all over supermarket shelves have been blended from lots of different origins and so lack any distinctiveness of taste. This means tea drinkers have no connection to the places or the people who are producing their tea – they can’t even find out where they are from. As such, origins like Assam – where some of the best, most distinctive and desirable black teas in the world are being produced – have been forgotten.

Assam Breakfast is designed to demonstrate the distinctiveness and quality this origin can produce. As a result tea drinkers get a better taste experience, and producers receive greater returns for their tea.

Given the increased hardships in the region this year, we’re relieved that we will be able to continue to share with you the reason that Assam is such an important region for tea. Teas that taste like this can’t be found anywhere else. Our unique blend is made up of teas from a few gardens. Some of the teas provide Assam Breakfast's robust body and deep red colour. Some of them give its characteristic malt flavour, Some of the tippiest teas will give the sweet raisin finish. All of them work together to enhance one other and deliver the ultimate taste of Assam.

We hope you like it.

Harmutty Garden, in the east of the region - it's low lying and borded by the River Dikrong. the hills of neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh and rice paddies.
Low-lying Harmutty, in the east of the region - it's bordered by the River Dikrong, rice paddies and the hills of neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh.
Local women on their way to work, Dejoo Garden, Assam.
Local women in Dejoo Garden, Assam.