Generally, when the word ‘Tea’ comes into context, Black tea comes to our mind. Second to water, tea is the most consumed beverage in the world and black tea takes the higher percentage of the share. However, in China and Japan, ‘Tea’ usually refers to ‘Green Tea’.
Being one of the most common tea types, black tea is popular in every culture and is used as a base tea for making some of the most popular blends such as Earl Grey Black, English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Malty Breakfast, Iced Tea, Chai, etc.
Today, three countries that take credit for the major percentage of black tea production are India, Africa and Sri Lanka, India being the one contributing to the production of half of the world’s black tea.
What is Black Tea?
Black tea, commonly known as ‘Red Tea’ in China and ‘Lal Chai’ in India, is the most oxidized tea than the other primary tea types (Oolong tea, Green tea, and White tea).
There are 4 major types of black teas based on the regions they are grown- Assam, Darjeeling, Kenyan, and Ceylon. Assam and Darjeeling in India boast being one of the largest tea producing regions and one of the superior quality tea producing regions in the world respectively.
Black tea has two variants- Orthodox (Whole leaves) and Non-Orthodox (CTC or Crush Tear Curl). During the production of both the variants, the tea leaves are left to fully oxidize prior to being heat-processed and dried.
Below are the sequential processes that black tea goes through during its production phase.
Orthodox: Withering → Rolling → Oxidizing (Fermenting) → Hot Air Drying/Pan Fry Drying
CTC: Withering → Crushing/Tearing/Curling → Oxidizing (Fermenting) → Hot Air Drying/Pan Fry Drying
Due to higher level of oxidation, the chemical reaction between oxygen and plant cell that changes the color of the leaves from green to blackish brown to black color. While the orthodox variant consists of strands of hand-rolled or machine rolled leaves, the CTC teas are tiny, hard pellets of leaves.
Oxidation not only alters the appearance of the tea leaves but also enhances the flavor profile of the tea. Depending on the black tea type (Orthodox or CTC), level of oxidation, processing and region they were grown, flavors of black teas can vary from/have a combination of malty, brisk, earthy, spiced, nutty, citrus, caramel, fruity, sweet, honey, and smoky notes. To gain distinct smoky flavor, teas are often passed through smoke chamber. The color of the liquor, flavor profile and astringency level in Orthodox are comparatively lighter, delicate and smoother than CTC teas. CTC tea is usually enjoyed with milk and sugar and is also used as a base tea for making Masala chai.
China is considered as the mother of tea. Before 1600s, the people of China enjoyed almost all of the teas produced in the country. However, many factors like colonization, trade, and migration that led people cross borders popularized tea culture, especially in Europe.
China produced green teas, however, while transporting teas across continents, the main challenge was to retain the quality of the teas. It was soon discovered that more the teas were oxidized, the longer did the teas retain their freshness. Eventually, black teas came into existence.
1600s saw the popularization of teas in Europe, thanks to the Dutch who first introduced tea there. By 1800, tea was one of the most popular drinks in Europe where black tea was more favored than its green cousin.
Tea was already popular among British people when they colonized India. They, like most Europeans, preferred full-bodied, strong black teas. The discovery of a new tea plant variety in Assam, India wrote a new chapter of black tea production in the world. The best thing about this variety was that it produced strong black teas just as the British people liked. This new variety was named ‘Assamica’ (Camellia Sinensis Assamica) and was introduced to many other regions of India (especially Darjeeling) for plantation.
What Makes Black Tea So Great?
One of the greatest aspects of black teas is that the flavor can be retained to almost perfect for several years if stored properly. In fact, in the 19th century, Tibet and Mongolia were some of the countries where compressed and dried bricks of black teas were effectively used as a form of currency because the loss of the quality of the tea was close to none.
Black tea is often consumed as morning or afternoon tea because it contains caffeine and theophylline that are responsible for stimulating your brain and heart rate. These substances are proven to make mind and body more alert.
Apart for this, consuming black tea has many other benefits like improve cardiovascular health, digestion, blood circulation, and many other that make it one of the most health beneficial teas.
Steeping Black Tea
For orthodox leaves, it is recommended to steep loose black leaves rather than in tea bags. The limited area of teabags makes it difficult for the long leaves to expand fully which may not provide the flavor that can be achieved from steeping loose leaves. Also, the chances of breakage of the long leaves are higher in teabags. However, pyramid teabags provide more space for the leaves to expand than the traditional teabags. For CTC leaves, you may either steep loose or teabags.
- Bring 180 ml of drinking water to boil to a temperature of around 85 – 90 * C.
- Measure 2.5 gram of tea and gently put it in a teacup containing recently boiled water or in a tea pot. You can also use strainers for easy steeping.
- Make sure to close the lid as it traps the aroma and doesn’t let the water cool faster than required.
- Wait for 3 – 4 – 5 minutes depending on how strong you want your black tea to be before straining the leaves.
- Pour the liquor in a cup / take out the strainer and let the liquor cool for some time.
- Orthodox black tea is best enjoyed plain though some enjoy with milk, sugar/honey, and/or lemon. CTC tea is usually enjoyed with milk, sugar/honey, lemon, herbs, and/or spices.
Do Not :
- Pour boiling water over the leaves as it burns the leaves giving off unusual bitterness.
- Steep over 5 minutes, unless you like extremely bitter tea.
Black teas are usually strong and bold, and because of that, you can steep it 2 – 3 times more. Whether you like the orthodox or the CTC version, black tea is undoubtedly the drink that can freshen up your body and mind.