A question posed to me almost daily is “What’s your favorite tea?”  For a tea buyer, there is no quick response to that seemingly-simple query. The answer depends upon where I am in the world, who’s joining me for tea, and the season or time of day.

I often turn the table and pose a question to my inquisitor. “Would you like to know the tea I drink every morningas does my wife, my staff, and almost everyone who has ever worked for me?” I ask.

Now they are intrigued.

That answer is easy. It is a single-estate, Tippy Grade Assam.

Assam teas changed the course of the Western taste for tea when Charles Bruce gave England its first sip of India tea in 1839 after his small allotment of native Assam tea came to auction in London. The exotic tea caused quite a stir because, until then, the only tea that filled the teapots of England or America was sourced from China. 

Bruce’s second saleninety-five chests in 1840proved there was a thirst for British-grown India tea and the race began to establish more gardens in that remote northeastern corner of India. Today, Assam is second only to the country of China in the tonnage of tea produced annually.
Charles Bruce’s historic report on Assam tea.
While the English marketplace continues to crave Assam CTC teas for their maltiness and the ability of the tannins to bind with milk, I’m in search of growers who produce well-made orthodox (whole leaf) teas with high tip content.

Tippy teas are a warm brown color with a good proportion of golden flecks throughout. These are the very tips of the new leaves—so new that when picked, they do not contain the same proportion of tea chemicals as slightly larger leaves and thus do not darken during the oxidation and drying period. 

A high level of tippy leaves is an indication of a carefully made, excellent-quality Assam choice. I often fall in love at the sight of these teas even before they yield their delicious well-rounded flavors to my tongue.
Tea picker on the Sonapur Tea Estate, Assam

First Flush Tippy Assams can sometimes yield notes of the greenness found in First Flush Darjeelings, a bit lighter than what most consider the typical Assam profile. I like this freshness but my preference – and the preference for most tea professionals I know –  is Second Flush Tippy Assam. Stephen Twining and I spent an entire morning drinking pot after pot of these delicious teas in his historic London shop a few years ago.

That’s why my wife and I drink it every morning and Tippy Assam is in our suitcase when we traveleven into other tea-producing countries. We both agree it’s our go-to morning tea. 

But there is one thing we don’t agree on: she drinks it neat and I always add milk.

Bruce Richardson is the owner of Elmwood Inn Fine Teas and the author of 14 tea books, including The New Tea Companion, Third Edition with Jane Pettigrew.  Benjamin Press.

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