Assam Shankar: Finest Second Flush

Picture of Assam Shankar:  Finest Second Flush
Brand:Fortnum & Mason
Region:Assam, India

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Reviewer pic58 Aroma: 4/10 Flavor: 4/5 Value: 3/5
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My wife's acquaintance's mom, who had passed away recently, bought this tea in London but never opened it. Since we like tea, we ended up with it from her estate sale. It's odd how, since I've started reviewing here, teas seem to fall out of the sky and into my hands through a variety of fortuitous circumstances, in addition to those I straight-up buy.

The outer box (photo included along with one I took of the leaves) is well-constructed, dignified and stately, probably destined to become a collector's item. I'm guessing this cost a few pretty pounds in jolly ol' England. The tea wasn't on Fortnum and Mason's website when I checked, so based on what else is, I'm guessing it's either seasonal (as many of their other wood-boxed teas are), a special run, or in-store retail only.

As for the product itself, it required patience. I wasn't very impressed with this version of Assam at first, but after a few cups, it has grown on me just a bit. The strongest element of the dry scent is smoked oak (smoky and woody at the same time), as if sniffing the steamy vapors wafting from a barbecue smoker, from oak that still has some moisture in it. I'm not a big fan of strongly smoky teas, and don't seek them, so that scent surprised me coming from an Assam. It's very much present in the flavor too, but at least the more typical malty element of Assam comes out of hiding and battles the smoky wood at least to a draw. Those who like smoky teas probably would rate this a good deal higher.

As you'd expect from an Assam, the cup brews up dense and dark, and the flavor as a whole is strong, rich and robust. If I could turn the smoke volume down from 6 to 3 or 2 (on a scale of 0-10), I'd really love this tea a lot. The finish and aftertaste are decidedly more malty than smoky, and the latter calms down gradually through the cup. That's what ultimately makes this tea tolerable for me, and why I'll probably finish off the box. I'll mix in some mulling spices (obtained at another estate sale the same day) in the strainer to make a homemade chai; those also should calm down the smoke a little more.

[Addendum] I've been tossing in a teaspoonful of mulling spices to make a homemade chai for several more cups, and that does the trick. A nice combination!

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