In the world of tea, Assam is famous for its tea, a strong, full-bodied, malty breakfast tea. Assam is also the single largest tea growing region in the world, producing nearly half the tea in India, elevating India to its place as the second largest tea producing country in the world, after China.
Located in northeastern India, it borders Bhutan and Bangladesh along with several northeastern Indian states, such as Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya, Tripura and West Bengal. The state is very fertile, thanks to the river Brahmaputra that originates in Tibet as the Yarlung Tsangpo and flows all the way here. The Brahmaputra that is the lifeline for the state, creating a fertile and rich environment for agriculture.
Interestingly, history reveals that tea was already growing in Assam when the British East India Company, heavily dependent on China for tea, and seeking ways to supplant this monopoly, were introduced to it. Among the several communities who live in Assam are the Singpho people, who are believed to be the first tea drinkers in India. In the 1820s, an Assamese minister, Maniram Baruaah introduced a Scottish trader, Robert Bruce to the Singpho leader Beesa Gam. Robert realised that this was or similar to the tea plant. Robert died shortly after but his brother, Charles Bruce was able to see Robert’s work through, by sending the samples to botanists who confirmed it was indeed tea. The species earned its own classification as the Camellia sinensis var. Assamica.
In its nearly 200-year history, Assam has seen the evolution of a full-fledged tea industry, beginning with black tea that found great favour in England. In the 1950s, mechanization arrived in Assam to manufacture at scale, and the arrival of the CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) machine. The CTC machines produce a highly oxidised black tea in a granular, pellet form. The CTC machines transformed the way of tea making, giving way to two main schools of tea production - orthodox and CTC.
Assam black tea is sorted into grades which help buyers with selection and pricing. There are three sets of grades - whole leaf, broken leaf and CTC. The harvest season is year-round except winter (November to February). Both orthodox and CTC tea have remained in production with Assam’s orthodox teas ranking among some of the most flavourful teas available in the world. Among harvest seasons, summer is when the plant puts out an abundance of tips that add flavour and fame to Assam’s tea.
In recent years, Assam has seen more small growers choosing tea cultivation. These farmers cultivate on small holdings, and often sell the green leaves to nearby factories or estates. They are heavily dependent on tea for their livelihood and the prices they can earn for the green leaf.
At Iron Kettle, we work closely with the small tea growers, taking agronomy practices to them, so that they see improvements in farming and plucking. In turn, we can pay higher prices per kilo of green leaf as we see improvements in the quality of tea it makes.