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The Tea of Assam, India

Assam tea plantation worker carrying a basket supported from her head.

Assam Tea Plantation Worker, by Flickr User Akarsh Simha, CC BY-SA-2.0

Teas from the three main growing regions of India, Nilgiri, Darjeeling, and Assam, have become highly regarded over the years, forming the base to many popular teas including English and Irish Breakfast teas as well as great stand-alone specialty teas.  Known for its black tea, the Assam region produces tea with a distinct malty taste, known for its briskness (which by the way is another way of simply saying that its taste makes you sit up and take note vs having a flat, dull, or otherwise non-memorable taste).  Tea is produced in this region comes from some 600+ tea gardens and is manufactured both as CTC (crush, tear, curl) as well as orthodox or specialty tea.  The sheer volume of tea produced in Assam contributes substantially to making India the second largest producer of tea after China.  While known almost exclusively for its black teas, it should be noted that the Assam region of India also produces some green and white orthodox teas.

Assam Tea and West Bengal (Darjeeling Tea) India along with its neighbors.

Map of India with Assam Tea and West Bengal (home of Darjeeling) Tea Growing Regions

Assam Tea History

The history of tea in India likely dates back thousands of years, as it does for its neighbors in Nepal and China.  However, most agree that commercial development of tea in Assam began with the British in the 1830’s when Britain, and in particular the East India Company, which wanted to find cheaper alternatives to Chinese tea, started looking for tea and suitable growing conditions in other corners of the empire.  Since it appeared the climate was similar to that of tea growing regions in China, the British imported seeds and plants of Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, the variety found in China.  This, unfortunately for the East India Company, turned out to be a failure, as the variety wouldn’t grow successfully in India.  Around the same time, beginning in 1815, Major Robert Bruce discovered a plant in Assam that he thought was likely the tea plant growing in the wild.  It wasn’t until nearly 30 years later, in 1834 that his brother Charles Alexander Bruce successfully got testing and recognition that the plant was indeed tea.  As it turns out it was simply another variation of C. sinensis, the assamica variety.  Much more recently, using DNA sequencing techniques, research is suggesting that C. sinensis var. assamica (Assam), along with C. sinensis var. sinensis (China) and many other varieties, are in fact all related to a single parent from Mongolia, which migrated over time to give us the varieties we see today.

Assam Tea Garden, India

Assam Tea Garden, by Flickr User Bidyut Gogoi, CC-BY-2.0

Terrior of Assam Tea

It is the terrior found in Assam, combined with the C. sinensis var. assamica variety, which produces the significantly different taste that has become so highly regarded.  The leaves are larger in Assam and the nutrients in the soil lead to different taste and flavor compounds in the leaves.  Whereas in China tea is often grown at higher elevations, in Assam it is grown at low elevations along floodplains with sandy, nutrient rich soils which are typical of floodplains.  Also unlike tea grown in other parts of the world, it is the second flush, not the first, which is preferred.  The second flush is considered to produce a sweeter liquor with a more robust full bodied taste.

Given the proximity to other great tea production regions like Darjeeling, Nepal, and China, along with the historical thirst for tea driven by colonialism, it is really little wonder that Assam has developed to play a major role in the global tea trade.  We are looking forward to further exploration of Assam and the specialty teas to be found from this great region.

Easy and Festive Matcha Butter Cream Frosting

Looking for a quick and easy way to brighten up your holiday bakes this year? As always, we’ve got a tea to help! Not only does this matcha buttercream boost a gorgeous natural green color, its sweet complexity compliments a wide variety of flavors. We especially love pairing it with gingerbread or dark chocolate cookies, but it would also do excellently as a frosting for your favorite cakes or cupcakes. 

Cookies Frosted with Matcha Buttercream Frosting

Ingredients: 

¾ cup softened unsalted butter 

2 ½ cups powdered sugar 

2 tbsp everyday matcha powder 

1 tsp vanilla extract 

2-3 tbsp whole milk or cream (as needed) 

Pinch of salt 

Steps: 

Using a stand mixer or electric hand mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add in your powdered sugar about a half cup at a time, mixing to incorporate after each addition. Beat in your vanilla extract and salt for 1-2 minutes, adjusting flavors to your liking. Once mixture is pale and airy, use a sifter to add in your matcha, one tablespoon at a time (do not skip sifting, as matcha powder is prone to clumping). Beat until no streaks remain and frosting is a uniform vibrant green. If consistency is too dense, beat in 2-3 tablespoons of milk or cream until light, fluffy, and easily spreadable. Use liberally for cookie decoration, cake frosting, or your treats of choice. Enjoy! 

By: Jen Coate

Dragon’s Moon Soup

Chilly autumn days call for some of our favorite cozy things! Warming hot teas, delicious soups… which gave us an idea. Why choose one tasty thing when you can have both? This hearty vegan soup makes perfect use of our favorite fall herbs and veggies, swapping out a traditional broth base for a concentrated black tea infusion to give it extra body and character. Savory, rich, and surprisingly substantial, this soup will store in the fridge for up to a week, or can be frozen for later use within a few months. 

Dragon’s Moon Soup 

(Serves 6) 

Ingredients: 

4-5 pieces Dragon’s Moon tea (or approx. 20 grams of any strong Chinese black tea) 

4 cups of water 

1 large butternut squash (approx. 3 lbs) 

1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped 

2 tablespoons olive oil 

1 medium yellow onion, chopped 

½ teaspoon sea salt 

3 garlic cloves, peeled, crushed, and chopped 

½ tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced 

½ tablespoon fresh thyme, minced 

1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped 

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated 

Fresh-ground black pepper 

Salt and nutmeg to taste 

Chopped parsley, toasted nuts or pepitas, or crusty bread (for serving, optional) 

For the tea infusion: 

In a small pot or heat-resistant bowl, pour boiling water over your Dragon’s Moon tea. Steep for five minutes, then remove and discard the leaves and set liquid aside for later. 

For the soup: 

  1. Begin by roasting your squash and carrot. Preheat oven to 375° F. While it is warming, peel your squash, trim off the stem and bottom, and slice it lengthwise down the center. Scoop out the seeds and dice into approx. 1” cubes. Spread on a baking tray along with your peeled and chopped carrot. Brush all vegetables with oil, then roast for 30-40 minutes until easily pierced with a fork. (Note: while this step is optional, it will add extra flavor and reduce your soup’s cooking time considerably). 
  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven on stovetop over medium heat. Once shimmering, add onion, sea salt, and a few grinds of pepper, sautéing 5-10 minutes until soft. 
  1. Add in your squash and carrot and cook 3-5 minutes, just enough to lightly brown. (Note: if you forgo initial roasting, this may take closer to 10-12 minutes). 
  1. Add herbs, ginger, and garlic, stirring and cooking until nicely fragrant, about 1 minute. 
  1. Add 3 cups of your tea infusion, reserving one final cup. Bring everything to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer 20-30 minutes until squash is very tender. 
  1. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth and homogenous. (Note: this can also be achieved using a regular blender or by hand with a potato masher). Adjust thickness of soup by adding small amounts of your remaining tea infusion until consistency is to your liking. 
  1. Season generously with salt and freshly ground nutmeg, tasting for flavor. Serve immediately, topping with fresh parsley and chopped nuts or pepitas. This soup pairs beautifully with a dark herb salad and warm crusty bread. 

By: Jen Coate

Barmbrack – Traditional Irish Tea Bread

Barmbrack, Traditional Irish Tea Bread

When it comes to sweet treats and fun traditions, you really can’t beat Halloween. Although there are some staple goodies when it comes to the season – caramel apples, s’mores, and candy, to name a few – sometimes the most interesting rituals are ones that point back to much older origins. One such custom is the making of barmbrack, a traditional Irish tea bread long associated with Halloween. 

Although the connection between barmbrack and Halloween in Ireland has been lost to recorded history, the confection may trace parts of its origin to soul cakes, small scone-like cakes that were baked on the Christian festival of All Soul’s Eve (also known as All Hallows Eve, the immediate predecessor to our modern Halloween), and given to beggars in exchange for prayers for the departed. But many years before that, soul cakes were thought to have been used in the rites of Samhain, a Celtic pagan festival marking the end of the summer harvest and the coming days of winter. These cakes may have been used for divination purposes, or as offerings for wandering spirits on a night when the veil between worlds was thin. 

Quite some backstory for a simple tea-bread! These days, barmbrack is most often baked in Ireland and among the Irish diaspora as a tasty treat for the Halloween season. But lest anyone forget its ancient origins, there is still a touch of divination to the barmbrack tradition – often, a few small tokens are baked into the loaf, which are said to foretell the future of those who find them. Most commonly included are a ring (for love or marriage), a coin (for wealth), and a pea or bean (for prosperity). 

Want to try making barmbrack yourself? Here’s one of our favorite recipes, courtesy of Donal Skehan (including a few notes of our own). Don’t forget to serve up with a cup of your favorite warming tea. Happy Halloween! 

You will need: 

13 oz assorted dried fruit (We like a mix of chopped dried apricot, raisins, and figs) 

2 oz whiskey (optional) 

9 oz cold black tea (such as Irish Breakfast) 

Butter, for greasing 

8 oz all-purpose flour 

2 tsp baking powder 

4½ oz light brown sugar 

1/2 tsp mixed spices (Hint: a pumpkin or apple pie spice blend would work well here!) 

1 large egg 

A ring, to place inside (optional, but fun!) 

Steps: 

  1. Place the mixed fruit in a bowl and pour over with tea and whiskey. Allow to soak up the liquid overnight. 
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F (170°C). Grease and line a 2 lb loaf pan. 
  1. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and spices in a mixing bowl. Make a well and break in the egg, then use a wooden spoon to mix it with the dry ingredients. Add a little bit of the liquid from the mixed fruit and mix it through to form a wet dough (Note: you may not need all the liquid to get there, so add in small amounts). 
  1. Stir in the fruit until everything is thoroughly combined. Add the ring (and any other charms you like) and stir through. Spoon the dough into the lined loaf tin, place on the middle rack in the oven, and bake for 1 hour. 
  1. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before removing from the loaf tin and placing on wire rack. Your brack will be excellent fresh from the oven, but even better over time as its flavors deepen. 

Written and Baked by: Jen Coate

Witch’s Brew 2021: Making Your Own Tea Blends

For Halloween, let’s brew up some unique tea blends using existing teas. Over the next four weeks, we will walk you through the craft of blending tea while creating four new blends to enjoy. So grab your measuring spoons, cup and infuser and join us on our blending adventure.

1st Recipe: Toasted Marshmallow

Our first recipe of the 2021 season is a blend of Lapsang Souchong and New World Vanilla to get us a smooth toasted marshmallow flavor. If you have not tried Lapsang Souchong before, this is a pine smoked tea from the Fujian Provence of China. The pine smoke nose hides a beautifully smooth and slightly sweet black tea that has a full mouth finish.

The good news about this recipe is that the teas are roughly the same size and density. So if you like this combination, you can mix a larger batch and have it on standby in the pantry. The recipe below is for an 8oz mug:

Toasted Marshmallow Recipe

Lapsang Souchong – 1/4 teaspoon

New World Vanilla – 2 1/2 teaspoons

2nd Recipe: Strawberries and Cream

This blend takes two popular oolong flavors, Strawberry Oolong and Milk Oolong, and combines them for a sweet and creamy cup of tea. Using desserts as inspiration for tea blends is pretty common as it allows a drinker to narrow in on a desired flavor.

The good news about this recipe is that the teas are roughly the same size and density. So if you like this combination, you can mix a larger batch and have it on standby in the pantry. The recipe below is for an 8oz mug:

Strawberries and Cream Recipe

Milk Oolong – 1/2 teaspoon

Strawberry Oolong – 2 teaspoons

3rd Recipe: Mint Julep

There are flavors in cocktails that can be easily mimicked in tea. The bourbon in the classic mint julep cocktail can be replaced with the pine smoked tea of Lapsang Souchong. The smokiness is smoothed out with the vanilla of New World Vanilla to help complete the bourbon replacement. Of course, a mint julep is not complete without mint, so we included Mint Fields. This type of copycat recipe is tricky because you are trying to replicate a flavor profile that can vary widely based on the alcohol that is used in the cocktail. So the goal is to pick the dominate flavor in the complex beverage and adjust the tea accordingly. We love the earthiness of the bourbon, so we scaled the Lapsang Souchong to come through on this recipe.

The good news about this recipe is that the teas are roughly the same size and density. So if you like this combination, you can mix a larger batch and have it on standby in the pantry. The recipe below is for an 8oz mug:

Mint Julep Recipe

Lapsang Souchong – 1/4 teaspoon

New World Vanilla – 1/4 teaspoons

Mint Fields – 2 1/2 teaspoons

4th Recipe: English Toffee

We wrap up our 2021 Witch’s Brew with a traditional candy, toffee. The subtle flavors in caramelized sugar are mimic by the Japanese tea, Hojicha. This beautiful roasted green tea carries a roasted nut flavor that when combined with our Dulce de Leche turns into a cup of toffee. While there are two teas with different brew times, this is a tea that should still be brewed for 5 minutes with boiling water. The Hojicha can handle the heat without becoming bitter, thanks to the roasting of that tea.

This is a recipe where the density of the two teas is too different to blend in advance (gravity will separate them in storage). So make by the cup or pot only. The recipe below is for an 8oz mug:

English Toffee Recipe

Hojicha – 1 teaspoon

Dulce de Leche – 1 1/4 teaspoons

Tea Pairings for a Late Summer Harvest

When it comes to fresh produce, there’s no season more abundant than late summer. If you spent your spring planting and weeding, you may find your home garden filled to bursting, while local farmer’s markets are more bountiful than ever. 

Basket of Fresh Veggies

With such a wonderful recent harvest, we’ve been having fun experimenting here at Dominion Tea, pairing up some of our favorite teas with dishes made from seasonal produce. Yes, pairing – just like wine, tea’s widely diverse range of flavors and complexity means that a proper match with food can lead to beautiful complementary tastes. But just like wine, the art of pairing food with tea is a delicate balance, combining flavors without overwhelming any one component. 

Curious to give it a try? Here are some of our favorite combinations for the late summer season. 

Red Alishan Oolong

Overwhelmed with cucumbers and tomatoes? Nothing beats a classic Greek Salad with feta, oregano, and olive oil. Try pairing it with our Red Alishan Oolong to enhance its sweet and earthy flavors. Remember that balance is important when it comes to tea and foods, so go light on the vinegar and onions if you use them. 

If you have squash or zucchini and you’re feeling adventurous, break out your spiralizer for a veggie-forward take on classic carbonara. Not only do vegetable noodles offer a healthy (and keto-friendly) alternative to traditional pastas, these garden mainstays pair delightfully with woody, malty Chinese black teas like Yunnan Sunrise or Keemun Mao Feng

For herb lovers, put fresh-plucked oregano and basil to use in a simple herb dressing, an easy and versatile fridge staple that can be applied to fish, chicken, salads, and so much more. Try with a cup of our White Monkey to augment its bracing freshness. 

Sweet and rich summer corn is delicious no matter how you prepare it, whether it’s seared on the grill or fried up with elote spices for a fun summer side dish. Pair with classic Chinese green tea like Huang Shan Mao Feng to enhance its creamy sweetness. 

2nd Flush Darjeeling

And for dessert, there are few things better than a warm fruit cobbler, especially when it’s made with fresh and juicy summer peaches and plums. Serve with a cup of 2nd Flush Darjeeling to bring out the tea’s naturally rich and fruity muscatel finish. Enjoy! 

By: Jen Coate