This is part of an ongoing series exploring the main varieties of tea. Subscribe for free to stay updated when new posts are added.
What is black tea, exactly?
Black tea is tea that has been fully oxidized. Like oolong, white, green and pu-erh teas, black tea is made from Camellia sinensis.
Black tea is so named because of the fact that the tea leaves, after the oxidation process is complete, have a darker appearance than other teas. The brew ranges in colour from amber to golden, depending on the type of tea and how strong it is.
To the uninitiated, black tea is synonymous with tea. But while it’s the most common tea found outside of Asia, in reality black tea is second to green tea in terms of global popularity.
In China, black tea is known as red tea, while pu-erh tea is known as black tea. Confusing hey?
Where is black tea grown?
Black tea is grown and produced just about anywhere that tea is produced. China, India, Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Kenya, Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia – all are major producers of black tea.
Japan is notable because it produces hardly any black tea, while Taiwan puts out a small quantity of black tea which is mainly sold domestically.
What are some of the most famous types of black tea?
Chinese black teas
China’s black teas are varied and markedly different from the black teas produced elsewhere. Keemum is a fragrant, beautifully flavoured black tea coming from Anhui Province, in eastern China. Lapsang Souchong is a very dark tea with a distinctive smokey flavour, hailing from the Wuyi region of Fujian Province. In far southwest China, bordering Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, is Yunnan Province, a region of stunning scenery that produces full-flavoured black teas with a unique character.
Indian black teas
More than half of India’s teas are produced in Assam, a state in northeast India. Assam produces some high-quality tea, but much of its tea is of a lower grade, often used as the base of the well-known breakfast tea blends (English, Irish and Scottish). Darjeeling, a region of India which lies wedged between Bhutan and Nepal at an elevation of 7,100 feet, has a much lower output of tea, but makes up for it in quality. The high standard of teas from Darjeeling have given it a reputation as the Champage of Teas. The southern-most tea region of India is Nilgiri, which lies in western India in the state of Tamil Nadu. Nilgiri teas are fragrant, though the quality of teas from Nilgiri is generally not as high as those from Assam and Darjeeling.
Other famous black teas
Ceylon (Sri Lanka) is renowned for producing brisk black teas sold as single-estate teas or used in blends. Indonesia produces a large quantity of tea used in tea bags, though it has a limited output of finer loose leaf tea. In recent decades, African nations like Kenya and Tanzania have also risen to prominence as major tea producing countries.
Besides these region-specific teas, there are a multitude of black tea blends which you will undoubtedly have heard of. Besides the breakfast blends mentioned above, some of the most popular include Earl Grey (scented with bergamot oil), Lady Grey (scented with bergamot oil and blended with orange and lemon peel), Prince of Wales and Russian Caravan (usually a combination of Lapsang Souchong and Keemum or Yunnan).
What’s the best way to brew black tea?
Black tea is best brewed with freshly boiled water at around 80-90° C. Allow it to stand anywhere between 3 and 5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea to be. Unlike the other varieties of tea, black tea is usually only good for one steeping.
Many people have their black tea with milk and/or sugar. I shy away from both of these. If the tea’s not good enough to drink on its own, I figure it’s just not good enough to drink!
What are the health benefits of drinking black tea?
There are definite health benefits to drinking black tea. Recent research has shown that black tea can improve dental health, reduce stress, improve your memory, lower cholesterol levels, reduce the risk of heart disease, inhibit Alzheimer’s disease and improve mental focus. The oxidation process means that black tea contains less of the antioxidants that green tea contains, though a study by Chinese researchers found that black tea contained more theaflavins and thearubigins, which can have anti-allergy, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties.
Does black tea contain caffeine?
Like every other tea produced from Camellia sinensis, black tea contains caffeine. Many people are under the impression that black tea contains more than all the other varieties of tea, though, as I have written previously, this isn’t always the case. The level of caffeine in any given cup of black tea depends on how it was produced and how long it is allowed to steep, among other things.
More on this topic: How much caffeine does green tea contain?
Where can I buy black tea online?
To begin with, check out the Tea Finely Brewed marketplace, where you can browse and compare black tea from different tea merchants.
Buy Tea Online – Firsthand advice on the best websites for buying tea
- Numi Tea offer fair trade, organic teas, including a lovely range of black teas.
- Adagio Teas have a diverse range of black teas available, including a Black Sampler which serves as a great introduction to the world of black tea.
- Mighty Leaf Tea also have a nice range of black teas.
- Generation Tea have some unusual and rare black tea offerings, well worth trying if you’re looking for something a little different.