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Some Assam for Me, Some Assam for You

August 2, 2009

Today’s teas:(1) Tippy Orthodox Assam GFOP, (2) Banaspaty Estate Assam TGFOP1, and (3) Madoorie Estate Assam TGBOP1, all by Upton Tea Imports.

Extensively compared by: goodtea

Today I learned two valuable lessons: first, comparing teas of similar types at the same time teaches you a LOT, and second, one should try one’s tea samples as soon as possible lest the tea  ends up being unavailable for purchase later.

Upton’s handy sample sizes (usually costing only around $1-$3) are great when you want to try a lot of teas to expand your palate or to just find that one perfect tea to suit your tastes. A few months ago, I ordered three samples of different Assams, and today I finally put them through a full taste-testing: I compared them dry, infused, with lemon, and with milk and honey. Which one won? Follow me below the fold to find out…

(1) Tippy Orthodox Assam GFOPA bold, tough guy who needs a bit of help controlling himself.

GFOP stands for Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, but since this is described as “tippy,” I guess it’s actually a TGFOP. (See our abbreviations page for help with all these acronyms.) It didn’t strike me as all that tippy, though.

Dry, the dark tea leaves have a fresh, malty smell–pretty much what I think of as the classic black tea scent. After steeping for 5 minutes (as the package recommended), the leaves take on a more vegetal smell. The liquor has a beautiful, reddish, amber color.

– Straight infusion: It tastes a tad bitter–I wondered if I should have steeped it a little less–but overall, it is nice and brisk, even bracing.  I like my teas strong, but this one lacks the complexity of teas like the Russian Caravan, where I savor every sip and ponder all the flavors. This Tippy Orthodox Assam seems better suited for being the cup of caffeine I knock back in the morning before I rush out to work.

– With lemon: The bold, bitter taste really doesn’t need lemon. I wouldn’t recommend adding such strong, acidic flavor to this tea.

– With milk and honey: Given its rather intense flavor, this tea is pretty much intended to be enjoyed with milk (and maybe a bit of honey). The milk and honey take the edge off the faint bitterness, but they don’t overpower the tea. I really enjoyed this Assam as a milk tea. Definitely a solid breakfast or afternoon tea that’s probably excellent with cookies or other snacks.

(2) Banaspaty Estate Assam TGFOP1A kind and gentle friend who is easily overwhelmed.

This organic, single estate Assam is almost the polar opposite of the Tippy Orthodox Assam above, which goes to show you what great variety you can find even in a single tea category. Unfortunately, it’s out of stock at Upton until the next crop arrives in September.

The dry leaves had a fresher, sweeter smell compared to the Tippy Orthodox. It was almost minty.  The pieces were visibly finer than the Tippy Orthodox, as would be expected from a TGFOP1, and only required 4 minutes of steeping. The infusion was still a lovely amber, but with more golden hues than the redder Tippy Orthodox. The scent, too, was much lighter that the Tippy O.

– Straight infusion: Compared to the Tippy O above, this tea might seem bland, but it really is a delightfully mild Assam. Lacking all bitterness, it had a nice, mildly astringent finish to give it that Assam-y crispness. A relatively sweet, mild, and very pleasant tea. This one I would definitely drink plain.

– With lemon: Unlike the other two Assams I tried today, this one actually tasted alright with a dash of lemon. The gentle sweetness seems to go well with the citrus.

– With milk and honey: Milk makes this tea taste pretty bland, and while a bit of honey redeems it a little, it’s simply too weak to stand up to an assault of dairy products unless you brew it stronger. But given how enjoyable this gentle tea is on its own, why would you even want to add anything else to it?

(3) Madoorie Estate Assam TGBOP1A fun, vivacious companion who gets on well with anyone.

Another single estate Assam, this one falls into the highest class of BOP-grade teas. Sadly, Upton no longer offers this tea in its catalog, but I’ve asked them to recommend a tea with similar qualities.

The dry tea is extremely fine, with lots of tiny, tiny pieces. Like the previous two teas, it has a fresh scent, though this one is distinctly fruitier than the other two. One advantage of BOPs is that they need less time to infuse, and this Assam clocks in at a mere 3 minutes. The liquor is, again, a warm reddish amber.

– Straight infusion: This tea seems to be somewhere between the Tippy O and the Banaspaty above. It is stronger than the Banaspaty, but has a hint of bitterness and that classic briskness that brings it more in line with the Tippy O. Interestingly, though, it manages to retain the subtle fruitiness the dry leaves hinted at. It reminded me a little bit of some Ceylons I’ve had.

– With lemon: With lemon, you risk drowning out the natural fruit notes that distinguish this tea, so I prefer it without.

– With milk and honey: Now this was a surprise! I was afraid the tea would lose its unique taste with milk, since it didn’t pack the same punch as the Tippy O, but it turns out this Madoorie Estate tea is rather adaptable and can hold its own, no matter what you do to it. The milk seems to bring out a sweet, raisin-like flavor, and a drop of honey complements this nicely. I couldn’t help but think of freshly baked raisin bread while drinking this tea with milk. Out of the three, this tea was definitely my favorite–but who knows when I will drink it again, since Upton doesn’t offer it anymore.

– Conclusion: The world of Assam tea is vast and mysterious. The Tippy Orthodox Assam is bold and great with milk, the Banaspaty Estate Assam is much milder and best enjoyed plain, and the Madoorie Estate Assam is fruity and delightful no matter how you choose to drink it. Clearly, there is an Assam out there for everyone, no matter your taste!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 21, 2009 7:18 am

    This was very revealing. Thank you for an insightful review. I have also been told to compare different varieties of the same kind of tea in order to discern the differences between them. I bought several different Wuyi teas to do this with. I’m also going to do it with Formosa Fancy-type teas and eventually I’d like to try some black teas side-by-side too.

  2. goodtea permalink*
    August 21, 2009 9:41 am

    Thank you for reading! I agree, comparing the teas was very enlightening experience. Please let me know how your tastings of the various teas go! I’ll be trying a couple of Pu-erhs next.

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