Produced exclusively in the lush north-eastern Indian state, Assam tea is renowned for its robust flavour. It’s the tisane of choice at The Milestone Hotel & Residences, and guests can enjoy a cup at any time of day with PMD Tea’s refined variety, sourced from Halmari Tea Estate. From a breakthrough discovery in the 19th century to how best to enjoy a pot, here we explore the multi-layered history of tea in Assam.
The discovery of Assam tea
The year 1823 was momentous in the history of tea. Serving with the Bengal Artillery in Assam, Major Robert Bruce was told by local chiefs of prolific tea plants growing in upper Assam’s wild Sadiya jungles. Upon discovering the plants, Robert sent cuttings to the Royal Botanical Gardens in Calcutta for identification. Here, scientists noted similar properties between these and the Chinese tea plant which was familiar to them at the time. However, all was forgotten—until a decade later.
The next chapter occurred in 1834 when Lieutenant Andrew Charlton of the Assam Sebundy Regiment found similar plants growing in the region and sent samples to the same research centre in Calcutta. This time, the botanists agreed that the plant in question was indeed a tea plant—not of the Chinese variety, but of an entirely different strand, which is today known as Camellia Sinensis Assamica, or Assam tea.
Adding hot water…
The East India Company was instrumental in the history of tea in Assam. Prior to 1857, the company governed India and had a monopoly on the Chinese tea trade. However, it wanted to find other areas in which tea could be successfully cultivated. The East India Company pioneered commercial tea cultivation outside of China and changed the way the world consumed the beverage.
Assam tea today
The Assam tea plant produces a rich, full flavour that’s ideal for a sturdy breakfast brew. Its Chinese cousin makes a more aromatic but lighter cup. Fast forward to the modern age and there is high demand for premium-grade Assam teas.
The Halmari plantation is a quality tea estate in Assam that consistently receives the best prices at auction. Tea-pickers here hand-select only the top two leaves and the bud. Sample the result at The Milestone, where the tea is best enjoyed with the hotel’s afternoon tea sandwiches. The orthodox leaf has a distinctive milk chocolate taste with delicate marshmallow notes. Add milk or drink it black, according to your personal preference.
Assam tea has myriad health benefits. Studies have shown that its antioxidants are absorbed into the blood stream, helping to reduce the risk of common degenerative diseases, such as heart disease, strokes and cancer.
Brewing the perfect cup
Dananjaya Silva, who leads The Milestone Tea Academy, presents expert tips for brewing quality Assam tea.
• Use loose leaf orthodox Assam tea.
• Use soft water. If you live in a hard water area, bottled or filtered water can be used.
• Boil the water.
• Heat the teapot with warm water.
• Add a spoon of tea per person and one for the teapot.
• Add boiling water.
• Stir for 10-20 seconds.
• Place a lid on the teapot and leave to brew for 3-5 minutes.
• Pour, sit back and enjoy.