Black Tea is the type of tea that has formed the majority of our tea drinking habits in Britain for generations, and possibly the type of tea we most often associate with a simple straight forward “cup of tea”. Perhaps most familiar as Breakfast Tea or just Tea.
Like all great things though – not really that straight forward! There are many many different types of Black Tea. A lot of these are known by origin or growing region, but a lot of black tea is also blended to form the drinks we are actually most familiar with.
Firstly, let’s consider the process. Black tea, is harvested tea leaves that have been fully oxidised. Hence the black colour of the leaves. So following harvest, the leaves undergo a period of withering to start the oxidation process and change the pliability of the leaves. The leaves are then either rolled or mechanically cut to produce either large leaf tea or a small leaf tea such as dust for tea bags. The purpose of these steps is to break the tea into smaller leaf pieces, and roll them into shape.
Once the leaves have been shaped and rolled, they are intentionally left to oxidise and turn black, ahead of finally being fully dried. Once dried, the leaves are sorted and graded ready for packing.
The greatest black tea producing regions of the world include Assam, Ceylon, Nilgiri, Darjeeling, parts of China, and many African countries. Indeed a huge percentage of the black tea drunk in Britain today is from African, Indian and Sri Lankan plantations.
Of all the Black Tea produced in the world, there is a lot of variance in taste and quality. The larger leaf Darjeeling teas for example, have their very own very unique flavours, and are quite different to the lower grade dusty teas produced for tea bag use. Regardless, they are still Black Tea.
Blending Black Tea is integral to our tea drinking history in Britain. Some of the most famous brands have relied heavily in talented tea tasters to make sure their own unique black tea blend stays consistent and true.
Black teas are usually the strongest flavour teas, and tend to brew deep, red and brown colours. For this reason, Black Tea is the only type of tea you can really add milk to.
There are so many Black Teas to pick from, but it is worth looking beyond the traditional builders brew, and experimenting with some of the regional teas to look for new flavour profiles. Consider some large leaf Assam – look out for robust malty flavours – or some Chinese Keemun – a bit smokier and more aromatic. Or some delicious Darjeeling – far more delicate with very fruity, nutty notes.
Always use hot water to brew your black tea – around the 95c mark, and allow your tea a good two to three minutes to brew. This will make sure all the flavour is released. As a lot of people do nowadays – try to avoid “dunking” your tea bag!!!!
There is certainly more to our cup of tea than meets the eye. Next time you make a brew – have a think about the journey from fresh green leaf to cup – it is truly remarkable.