Monday, April 6, 2009

REVIEW: Assam, Lavender Lounge Tea

My tea swap partner on Facebook, Evelyn, sent me the following tea, which I thought to review today.

Lavender Lounge Tea

This tea is a blend, not identified by single-estate status and whatnot. It seems pretty simple. The notes on the packet say: "ASSAM. Slightly malty tones. a.k.a. Irish Breakfast." I find it interesting that English Breakfast is often associated with Chinese Keemun tea, but Irish is associated primarily with Indian Assam.

This brings me to an interesting distinction. (And my pardon to botanists. I am a tea drinker, but I don't know horticulture.) Initially, people only drank Camellia sinensis sinensis, which derives from China. This plant was eventually brought to other regions, where it was cultivated and became regional cultivars. However, Camellia sinensis assamica was also eventually discovered and is native to India, and it is somewhat different from the Chinese variety. (There is apparently a Cambodian tea plant, as well, but I have never heard of anyone drinking it.)

I will quote this article:

Several varieties of C. sinensis are used for tea production; most prominent are the variety of Assam (sometimes called C. sinensis assamica or C. assamica) and the plant of China (sometimes called C. sinensis sinensis), as well as various cross-breads of the two.

The Chinese variety is a small-leaved bush with multiple stems that reaches a height of some 3 meters. Assamica has a single stem and larger leaves; it is usually 6 to 20 meters (20-65 feet) tall if not trimmed. Assamica is a lowland variety of the plant and does not tolerate cold winters, unlike sinensis. It has a higher yield than sinensis. The tea from Assam is exclusively the assamica variety. Most of Ceylon tea too is produced from this variety. Assamica produces a malty, earthy drink, unlike the flowery sinensis.

There is also a Cambodian variety of the plant, C. sinensis parvifolia, with leaves in size between the Assam and Chinese varieties; it is a small tree with several stems.

So that's the difference among the tea leaves, and why the malty teas are so different from the flowery Chinese and Darjeeling varietals.

First steeping: 2 teaspoons loose-leaf tea bags in 2 cups boiling, filtered water, Japanese cast-iron tetsubin, 4 minutes.
Second steeping: 5 minutes

It's a dark-brown cup, somewhat opaque. The tea has a fairly pronounced orangey-citrus flavor. It's a pretty pleasant, serviceable Assam.

The second steeping is likewise opaque, but the flavor is much more muted. This tea can only withstand one steeping.

I'm not truly an Assam drinker. I value the lightness and sharpness of the Darjeelings and some Chinese teas, instead. That being said, because this tea is moderately malty-- as opposed to many Assams I've had, which can seem quite heavy and thick to me-- I find it to be all right, though not fantastic.