What is Black Tea?

In Western culture when people talk of tea, the are often referring to black tea. This is in contrast to Eastern culture were tea typically refers to green tea. What the West calls black tea is known in China as red tea (hong cha), referring to the reddish color of the brew, which is not to be confused with South Africa’s tisane Rooibos which is colloquially referred to as “red tea” as well.

Black tea, a popular choice for breakfast and afternoon teas, also originates from the Camellia Sinensis plant but is a highly oxidised tea style. It is the most oxidized of white, green and oolong teas.

Its popularity is fueled by the fact that it can accommodate a range of flavour combinations and additives, which are often used to mask the teas astringent aftertaste. 

Although black tea is very popular in the west it is often consumed from a tea bag, gourmet or loose leaf black teas are still to gain the attention and popularity that they deserve.

How did Black Tea Originate?

Tea is considered to have originated in China, As tea culture spread and tea was produced for export to trade beyond regions, neighboring countries and eventually across oceans, it was discovered that the more oxidised black tea would retain its freshness and flavor better over long journeys than its cousin, green tea. In its earliest days of border trade between China, Tibet and other neighboring countries, tea was fermented, dried and pressed into bricks to be used as currency. To this day, most black tea produced in China is exported out of the country.

MORNING TEA. PRINT BY RICHARD HOUSTON, 1750The Dutch first brought tea to Europe in 1610, it arrived in England in 1658, and then it rose in popularity in England’s American colonies throughout the 1700s. Demand for tea experienced huge leaps in the 1700s as England expanded sugar imports from its Caribbean colonies. By 1800, the English were annually consuming 2½ pounds of tea and 17 pounds of sugar per capita. Some claim it was the increasing trend of adding sugar to tea that spiked the demand for strong black tea over the more delicate green tea imports.

The next leap in black tea production came in the 1800s when the Camellia sinensis assamica tea plant variety was discovered in 1823 in the Assam region of India. This native variety was much better suited to the production of the hearty, bold black teas that were in high demand. Not long after, in 1835, the English started planting tea gardens in India’s Darjeeling region, near Nepal. Since India was a British colony, these different varieties of black teas quickly became popular exports to England 

Black Tea Types and Flavors

In Tea 101 we go into depth on what makes each style of tea different, in short all black tea comes from the same plant as green tea, Camellia sinensis, it is how the leaves are processed that makes   tea, white, green, oolong or black.

    Black tea types: Three of the largest producing countries of black tea today are India, Sri Lanka, China and Africa. In fact, half of the world’s tea production comes from India. Varieties produced in these countries include Darjeeling, Ceylon, Keemun, Lapsang Souchong, Yunnan, and Assam, just to name a few. Other countries now also producing black tea include  Argentina, Thailand, and the United States.

Assam Assam comes from India’s Assam region which is the largest tea-growing region in the world. The rainy, tropical climate produces a tea known for its bold and malty characteristics that stand up well to milk and sugar. Assam tea blends have long been used for English Breakfast Tea and Irish Breakfast Tea. It’s also the classic choice for various chai blends.

Darjeeling Also from India, but grown in a smaller, mountainous tea-producing region of India, Darjeeling is a softer, more herbaceous black tea that can change from season to season with the climate. The stress of high altitude (grown at 5000 to 7000 ft in the himalayas)  is one of the factors that makes Darjeeling tea so unique. Darjeeling is often used as the tea base for India’s popular spiced beverage, Chai. You get Darjeeling first flush and Darjeeling second flush teas which are two of the most prized black tea varieties in the world. Darjeeling black teas have been a staple choice for royalty all over the world, due to its well rounded, complex flavours and fine textures.

Ceylon Most of Sri Lanka’s tea export is black tea, known as Ceylon. Much of Sri Lanka’s economy depends on its more than half a million acres of tea gardens that range in location from cool and mountainous to humid and tropical. Ceylon teas can vary depending on where they grow, but they are generally known to be strong and brisk with a hint of spice. (Sri Lanka is also known for its cinnamon production.)

Kenyan Kenyan tea is known for its assertive, full-bodied style. Being a latecomer to tea production (early 1900s), Kenya learned fast and now leads Africa and the industry in the Crush, Tear Curl (CTC) style of tea production, producing and exporting mostly black tea.

Black teas are also being grown in other parts of the world – Charleston, SC has a plantation for Bigelow Tea; Hawaii has tea growers cropping up in recent years due to the decline in the Hawaiian sugar industry. Washington and Oregon also boast their own tea growers as conditions in the Pacific Northwest are similar to those in China’s mountainous tea regions

Flavors For a long time, in the west, the quality of black tea hasn’t been something that was highly regarded as the western palate is accustomed to the typical strong black tea that can stand up to sweetener, cream or lots of ice.

The same factors that influence the flavor of the other styles of tea, also affect the flavor of black tea – terror, Cultivar, Climate and Processing. Generally black tea is stronger, bolder and richer than green tea; with the flavor varying greatly; some are flowery, some malty, some spicy, and some nutty. Other common traits used to describe the overall flavor profile of black tea include malty, smoky, brisk, spiced, metallic, citrus, caramel, leather, fruity, sweet and honey.

A brewed cup of black tea can range in color from amber to red to dark brown.

Black Tea Processing

A single batch of black tea can be completed within a day using the Orthodox process and within a couple of hours using the CTC process. The orthodox process is very linear and is covered in Tea 101.

CTC or Crush Tear Curl is a method of processing black tea where the leaves are passed through a series of cylindrical rollers with serrated blades that crush, tear and curl the tea into small, even shaped pellets. This method is commonly adopted for producing lower grade tea dust or fannings.

When black tea is processed through the orthodox method all five steps of tea processing (Plucking, withering, rolling oxidizing, firing) are followed in order and not repeated as in oolong or with some steps eliminated as with green tea.

Withering: Plucked tea leaves are withered by blowing hot air over them. Helping to reduce the moisture content of the leave and making it pliable for rolling

Rolling: Black tea is further processed into one of two styles Orthodox or CTC. To produce orthodox teas the withered tea leaves are heavily rolled either by hand or mechanically through the use of a cylindrical rolling table or rotorvane.

Oxidation: After rolling, the tea leaves are oxidized under controlled conditions of temperature, oxygen level and humidity. This develops the flavor of the tea and the aromatic compounds, as well as browns the leaves.

Drying:  the oxidized leaves are left to dry until all the moisture is removed from them.

Black teas always receive a final grading after drying, although other teas don’t. This is because many more sizes are created during the rolling stage, so sorting for uniformity is crucial. Otherwise the flavour of the tea will not be standardised from cup to cup, due to the leaf size, surface area exposed and flavor extraction rate.

Caffeine Brewed black tea has the most caffeine content per cup, when compared with other teas. A generally accepted level of caffeine per 230ml cup of black tea is 14 – 61 mg. Significantly lower than brewed coffee at 95 – 200mg per cup.

Brewing / Preparing Black tea With the exception of first flush or spring Darjeeling, black teas should be steeped using boiling water for three to five minutes. Special attention should be given when preparing black teas, as steeping them too long will quickly result in a bitter taste. Due to their stronger flavor and the use of hotter water, black teas generally cannot handle multiple infusions very well, unlike some other varieties

The first flush, Darjeeling harvest is made from very delicate leaves and often the finished product looks very much like a green tea (even though it is processed like a black tea). This tea is better with slightly cooler water and a shorter steep.

Health benefits The tea styles have been found to have very similar health benefits. Some of the common reported benefits of black tea are:

Prevents breast cancer
Provides relief from asthma
Helps cure digestive disorders
Reduces risk of heart ailments
Reduces bad cholesterol levels
Effective remedy for intestinal disorders
A word of caution: Many people have the habit of drinking black tea 3 – 5 times a day, becoming so addicted should they skip it even once from their routine schedule they may suffer from headaches the next day.

Black tea is also known to cause acidity issues in the stomach.

Sources Ref: https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/beverage/health-benefits-of-black-tea.html Ref: https://www.teatulia.com/tea-varieties/what-is-black-tea.htm

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