The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
Assam-India's Vast & Beautiful Tea Basket
India's Assam region, known as the "land of the one-horned rhino," is vast and
beautiful, with lush, dense forests and sprawling plains, along with the world's
longest river, the Brahmaputra, running through it.  Assam is not only India's lar-
gest tea growing region, but the world's, with nearly 450,000 tons of tea (55%
of India's total yearly production) produced in 1993, from over 2,000 tea gardens.
Assam is located at the foot-
hills of the eastern Himalayas, in the far
eastern corner of
India.  The Brahmaputra
River runs down through the middle of the
region, carrying rich, fertile soil from the
mountains of Tibet, coming to the end of its
journey in the Bay of Bengal in Bangladesh.

Essentially a large, tropical river valley,
Assam's varied weather forms its own micro-
climate.  The massive Himalaya Mountains
block the hot and humid monsoon air, keep-
ing it from blowing north away from the
valley.

This in turn causes more rainfall, which
causes the rivers to overflow their banks,
depositing a new, fertile coat of topsoil each
year giving the tea plants an added nutritional boost, further supporting their lavish growth.

                                              Assam has an extremely high rainfall amount per year, usually 80
                                              to 120 inches, but it's been known to exceed thirty-three feet in
                                              just one season.  The temperature also rises during the rainy
                                              season causing high humidity and giving the air the feel of a
                                              hothouse.

                                              This is the perfect climate for growing tea and one of the reasons
                                              Assam is the largest tea growing region in the world.

Assam produces both mass-market CTC
(cut-tear-curl) and specialty orthodox teas.
Unfortunately much of the tea produced in
the world competes for the same market,
causing the price for mass market CTC teas
to drop significantly.

The price has dropped so low, in fact, that
many of Assam's tea growers have given up
and closed their tea gardens.  Estimates from
2003 to 2005 show between 100-150 gar-
dens closed.

Another problem Assam tea growers face is
the region's political instability, causing un-
safe conditions for visiting foreign buyers, as
          well as discouraging both foreign and local capital investment by area tea garden and
          factory owners.

          Many Assam tea growers are working toward changing the negative situations facing
          them.  They are upgrading the quality of the tea they produce and with help from the
          government, rebuilding infrastructures, and marketing a higher grade product.

                                                           Assam's tea growing regions are divided into four parts:
                                                           Upper Assam, located at the far end of Assam near the
                                                           Chinese-Myanmar border, the North Bank at the northern
                                                           banks of the Brahmaputra River, Central Assam, and
                                                           Lower Assam which lies in the western half.

                                                           The Upper and Central Assam districts produce the larg-
                                                           est volume and best tasting teas.  Because the region
          is so vast it's difficult to get an accurate count on the actual number of tea producers.
          The Indian government figures estimate there to be between
          800 to 850 tea estates which have more than 500 acres of land.

          But because it takes between 15 to 20 years for a tea garden to
          be eligible to be counted as a classified garden, it's estimated
          that another 500 to 800 gardens are not included in the count,
          but are
producing tea and adding to the yearly production num-
          bers. (To sample quality Assam tea click the link to the right-from
          Taylors of Harrogate-50 Assam tea-bags or below for 300 ct tea
          bags.  This tea is a 5-star customer pick!)

          Additionally there are conceivably another 200,000 to 300,000
          individual tea growers with less than ten acres who deposit their
          freshly plucked tea in "bought tea" factories, of which there are
          approximately 150-200, and neither the growers nor the factor-
          ies are officially counted in Assam's annual production totals.

                                                           Assam officially produces an average of 400,000 metric
                                                           tons of tea annually, which represents 45 to 50% of
                                                           India's total tea production.  But if the non-classified and
                                                           independent tea growers and factories were added in,
                                                           the figure could be as high as 75% of India's tea pro-
                                                           duced just by the region of Assam.

          
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Like China and Japan, first flush spring teas are the most anticipated.  With March comes the first flush Assam teas
with the most delicate leaves.  In late May and early June come the tippy summer 2nd flush teas, which are covered
with a fine, silvery hair on the underside of the leaf.  Last is the autumn harvest which arrives in October and
November, following the monsoonal summer rains.  From December to March the plants rest and remain dormant.

Some of Assam's
orthodox teas are the finest in the region, but most tea produced is CTC.  Because the domestic
market for specialty orthodox Assam's is so small, it's risky for independent and smaller gardens to produce it.  So
most of the quality orthodox Assam teas are grown and produced by large multinational companies that can afford
the risk.

That risk is getting less and less, though, as demand for specialty orthodox teas has reach-
ed its highest point ever, with no signs of slowing down.

Like many other tea producing regions in the world, Assam's growers and researchers are
working on producing heartier tea plants that can withstand everything from droughts to
flooding, to resistance to diseases and pests, and an increase in the amount of leaf per
plant.

Both CTC and traditional specialty orthodox teas are sold at the Guwuhati Auctions for the domestic market, or the
Siliguri or Calcutta auctions for the export.  
Enjoy.
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