What is Black Tea?

What is Black Tea?

Everything Goes with Black

Easily one of the most consumed beverages on the planet, tea, and specifically black tea, is much more than a twist on the classic green tea. Though green and black tea do both come from the same plant, the Camellia sinensis plant, there are a few key differences. Today we will take a closer look at black tea and see how it became the chosen morning and afternoon pick-me-ups for a large portion of the globe!

The Origins

As mentioned before black tea along with green tea, oolong tea, white tea, yellow tea, and pu’erh tea all come from the Camellia sinensis plant. What differentiates them is usually the length of time the leaves are allowed to oxygenate before they are processed by being exposed to a heat source. 

White teas are the least oxygenated and pu’erh and other fermented teas are the most oxygenated. Oxygenation does a few different things to tea leaves. It often changes the colour of both the leaves and the tea liquor, and it also causes internal chemical changes that result in different aromas, flavour palettes, mouthfeels, and characteristics. 

But black tea has a lot more of a story to it than just being “more oxygenated green tea”. While black tea’s story is more recent than that of green tea, it is no less marvelous. Stories of its actual origins abound, with Qimun or Keemun being claimed as the origin of black tea in China. 

Some stories describe how an invading army meddled with a town’s normal tea processing operations, thus resulting in the more fermented style black tea. Whatever the truth may be, black tea became a hit as an export item among European traders in China in the 17th century. 

It may be interesting to note that in East Asian languages like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and others, black tea is known as “red tea”. This is because the brewed liquor of the tea is a reddish colour. But then how did the name “black tea” come about? That has more to do with advertising! Green tea was already known in the Western market. So, to differentiate between green tea and this new and fabulous tea, English and Dutch traders labeled it “black tea” because of the colour of the tea leaves. 

Black tea wasn’t just a hit in the Western world. Throughout Central Asia, Tibet, Mongolia, and parts of Russia, bricks of black tea were used as currency, and black tea still has immense influence and worldwide renown today. 

What’s one more interesting thing about black tea? Many varieties do not come from the same plant as the green tea plant! That’s right while many green teas come from the Camellia sinensis var. Sinensis or Chinese tea plant, many black teas, especially those coming from India, Sri Lanka, and parts of South Asia actually use an Indian variant of the Camellia sinensis plant called Camellia sinensis var. Assamica, also known as the Assamese tea plant. But now that we have learned a bit about its origins, let's see how black tea is processed.

Black tea may be processed in one of two ways: Orthodox or CTC.

The Orthodox method follows a series of processing steps akin to a standard traditional tea leaf processing method. That includes plucking leaves, allowing them to wither, rolling or twisting the leaves, allowing them to soak up oxygen in the oxidation process, before the final heating or drying process. 

Meanwhile, CTC method (which stands for Crush, Tear, Curl) goes about things a little differently. The CTC method uses a series of cylindrical steel rollers equipped with sharp teeth. These rollers then, well, crush, tear and curl the tea leaves. The leaves come out as small round pellets. This method is often used for mass-producing black tea and is used as the base for many tea bags or black teas to be used for breakfast tea. 

Black Tea Flavour Profiles

While all teas have a unique and nuanced flavour catalog depending on scores of different variables like terroir, region, climate, etc, to say black tea’s flavours are diverse is an understatement. 

Black tea is produced in China, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Iran, and Kenya, just to name a few of the major producers of black tea. Among these diverse nations for tea, there are loads of diverse tea flavours and aroma profiles one can expect. 

There are also a few different colour ranges as well from bright ruby to a deeper brown. Tea from Sri Lanka in particular shows a massive range of diversity, with every part of the island demonstrating a different profile with some being robust and malty, others citrusy, brisk, and even chocolatey. 

This range of flavours is present worldwide. Black teas can be rich, savory, smoky, malty, citrusy, fruity, and even spicy. But in general, black teas when compared to their lighter cousins will have a distinct colour of course but in regards to flavour will be noticeably stronger, deeper, and more robust.

Black Tea is no Black Sheep

In the Camellia sinensis or true tea family there are many stars, but certainly no black sheep especially when discussing black tea of any variety. Black tea is a powerful member of the true tea family. 

For best results, when brewing black teas use thicker brewing vessels. This is because black teas require a slightly higher temperature and longer brewing time. Also, because of black tea's more robust flavour, it pairs especially well with milk, cream, sugar, honey, and lemon. So feel free to experiment! There’s no judgment here! 

As for caffeine content black tea is usually on the higher end compared to its other true tea cousins. Though the caffeine content of true teas can vary greatly based on an origin of the tea, black teas are generally a little stronger! But you are certainly going to be in for a great tea treat no matter what, so happy brewing!

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