Although black tea originated in China, three of the largest black tea producers today are India, Sri Lanka and Africa. Half of the world’s tea now comes from India. As the culture of tea spread and was processed for export to trade with other regions and countries, it was discovered that the more oxidized black tea retained optimal freshness and flavor over time. Although they come from the same Camellia sinensis plant, black tea differs from green tea in that the leaves are allowed to fully oxidize or ferment. The oxidation/fermentation process impacts the flavor profile of black tea and ultimately determines the quality of the black tea. The flavor profile of black tea is also affected by the environment in which it is grown, the planting methods, surrounding crops, and the amount of sunlight it is exposed to while growing.
Making Black Tea
The Crush-Tear-Curl process is vastly different and was developed specifically for the black tea industry in an effort to save time and money. All five steps of the Orthodox process are followed, but in a limited and less careful manner. CTC teas will take torn, chopped, shredded, and minced leaves. CTC is made on a machine that further macerates the tea leaves. The ground leaves are rolled into small pellets to be oxidized. The entire process is done in as little as two hours. CTC is ideal for the tea bag industry and highly flavored chai blends or iced teas. The flavor from CTC is one-dimensional and is described as bold, powerful and brightly colored with a pungent astringency. Orthodox teas won’t have the same type of color and body, but they have an amazing range of flavors and aromas. Orthodox teas can be stored for up two years in an airtight, glass container. CTC teas lose flavor and quality in as little as six months.
Types & Tastes
A freshly brewed cup of black tea can range in color from light amber, to deep reds and rich dark browns. Black teas can be savory or sweet, and when brewed correctly are smooth and full of flavor. Black tea flavor profiles typically include one or more of the following: malty, smoky, brisk, earthy, spiced, nutty, citrus, caramel, leather, fruity, sweet and honey.
China Black Tea BOP: This black tea is made from broken orange pekoe. Orange Pekoe is the first two leaves from the tip of a branch and is often broken to affect the tea’s taste and body. This tea has a medium body and a rich aroma.
Assam: in 1823 the Camellia sinesis assamica tea plant was discovered in India. This large leafed tea plant creates hearty, bold black teas. The Assam Region in India is currently the largest tea-growing region in the world. The climate here is tropical-warm, rainy, and moist with the perfect balance of sunshine. Assam tea has a dark, robust and malty flavor. The highest quality Assams contain the golden tips that give added depth to the tea with the taste of sweet raisin or honey.
Darjeeling: Grown in the smaller, mountainous regions of India, it has a flavor that will change with seasons. Originally a Chinese tea it gets combined with the flavors of French grapes and the surrounding Himalayan mountain air for a brew that is both delicate and assertive. Known as the “champagne of tea” its flavor has been described as musky-sweet, vegetal, mossy, fruity, citrus and completely unique. Darjeeling teas are consistently less oxidized than typical black teas making it lighter and less astringent, but more layered and complex than green teas. Darjeeling tea will taste different depending on when it is harvested. These harvests are called flushes. The highly prized first flush come after the spring rains and can taste anywhere between light and fresh to lively and full-bodied. The second flush done in the early summer have mellow, and the wine-like muscatel flavors. Darjeeling tea is a great base to create India’s spiced Chai.
Ceylon: In 1867 a Scotsman names James Taylor planted the first tea estate in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka at that time was an independent country in the Commonwealth of Nations that was ruled partly by the British Monarch and was known as the Colony of Ceylon. In 1965 Ceylon become the world’s leading exporter of tea and is known for its unmatched quality and variety. The climate is ideal for growing tea, with abundant sunshine and rain. Ceylon added new dimensions to tea by creating new varieties in taste, quality, character and appearance. It has a strong full-bodied flavor with a hint of spice from the cinnamon grown around the tea plantations. They have beautiful colors ranging from light, bright golden colors to deep reds.
English Breakfast Tea: This Chinese black tea is made from the high grade Keemun leaves. Only the delicate buds are used to make Keemun tea. The buds are twisted into fine gold tipped strands before fermenting. Keemun tea has a rich, slightly smoky flavor and is well bodied with a spiced finish. It has an amazing honey aroma. English Breakfast Tea is now often made from a blend of teas originating from Assam, Ceylon and China. It is one of the most popular and recognized black teas worldwide.
Chai: Chai is a spiced milk tea from India. The most common spices used in Chai are cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and pepper. Each spice has active medicinal properties. Cardamom aids digestion and helps fight respiratory allergies. Cinnamon helps to regulate blood sugar and has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. Ginger is the champion herb for digestion and is a potent anti-inflammatory. Clove has pain relieving properties and also improves digestion. Black pepper changes the way the body stores fat that has a direct effect on metabolism. Its warming properties and soothing aroma promotes a sense of well being.
Pu-erh tea: is the most fermented black tea from the Yunnan province in China. Pu-erh tea can also be aged for several years to allow beneficial bacteria and fungi to break down the tea leaf transforming the compounds and enzymes in the tea. Like wine, pu-erh tea ranges in quality and vintage, being anywhere from 3 months to 100 years old. It is best to either drink a young or old tea, as the middle years of the tea are not as palatable. Used in many Chinese elixirs, the fermentation process creates compounds different from those in green or black tea. Fermentation causes it to lose catechin antioxidants but it gains so much more. Research shows that pu-erh tea has high amounts of gallic acid (a potent anti-microbial), the compound theabrownin, several polysaccharides and enzymes. Theabrownin is found exclusively in pu-erh tea and recent clinical studies show it has cholesterol and fat lowering properties. The high content of gallic acid helps to significantly break down visceral fat after just 12 weeks. The best time to drink pu-erh tea for weight loss, and to lower cholesterol, is one hour after meals as it helps your body quickly digest and eliminate fats. The fermentation process also increases the content of digestive enzymes in pu-erh tea supporting the rapid digestion of food and reduction of gas and bloating.
Brewing the Perfect Cup