Posted by: dan | July 7, 2009

beanbag chai

Assam Chai Header(title with apologies to Yo La Tengo)

Dan: Sunday mornings are made for sitting down with a pot of tea and some gentle music. I have discovered this over the last couple of months. It’s the perfect time to relax and sup on a new tea. Which usually means I’m writing a review too, and this Sunday it’s Lahloo and their Assam Chai.

Ingredients

A spicy selection

Chai literally means ‘tea’ and would seem to be a redundant term, except it has an implication. If a tea is called ‘chai’, it usually means that you get a bit more than tea in your packet of leaves, as a healthy mix of spices are also included. This is called ‘Masala Chai’, and this is what this Assam is. I was still surprised when I opened the pack and saw what was included. Massive chunks of cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and cloves, and some pieces of bay leaves. It looked more like I was going to make soup than tea. At this point I decided to look at the instructions.

Brewing InstructionsAs you can see in the image, there are a couple of ways to brew this tea. I decided to use the quick way (shame on me – I shall try it the fancy way next time, I promise), and was a little confused by the instruction to use half the usual amount of water. Surely that just means I’ll get half a cup instead of a full one? I brewed enough for one cup anyway. There’s also a fairly wide margin given for brewing time: 3-6 minutes. Now, a lot can happen in those 3 minutes, so I kept a watchful eye on the tea and estimated it to be about ready at the 4 minute mark. At this point, I ignored instructions again. It’s been a long while since I gave up putting milk and sugar in my teas, and there’s a few reasons for it. Mostly, I feel it interrupts the flavour of the tea, and you don’t get the full intended strength and depth you’re supposed to; and partly because when I’m trying a tea for the first time I have no idea how much milk or sugar it may need to enhance the flavour (though I have been known to get that horribly wrong as well). As such, I added no warm milk, no sugar and no honey to my Assam Chai. I realise that this is not generally the accepted way of making Chai teas, but dammit, I have my methods. And I will try it the traditional way next time, so why can’t I experiment?

Anyway, onto the results. Firstly, the smell is a gorgeous concoction of contrasting aromas. It’s what you’d expect from the large number of spices included with the leaves; like pot-pourri, but pleasant. This is true for the leaves when they’re dry, and for the drink when fully brewed. I’m still finding the smell is weakened by the addition of hot water, by the way. Most of the time though, the strength of the flavour is enough to compensate, and that’s as true here as it is anywhere else. The eclectic range of flavours work well together, and creates a fancy, fruity, spicy taste. The ginger might have been a bit too strong in my cup, but that’s mostly because those big chunks pour out first, so that’s my fault. The most important thing I can say here is that I was wrong. I get the feeling that you really do need to follow those instructions and add some milk or brew in the traditional way to get the most from this tea. It’s nice enough on it’s own, but it’s just on the edge of something special. I mean special, too. I can’t see it being a tea you’ll drink regularly, instead, this would work best as a treat for a good mood and guests on a sunny afternoon. Expect an update once I’ve brewed it right, as I think it really will be special then.

Dan was drinking Lahloo’s Assam Chai, available at ¬£6 for 50g. Milk is available from all good supermarkets.

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