Black tea has fallen out of favor recently as green tea has become more popular. However, black tea has many benefits that green tea does not, so it can be included as a beneficial part of any diet.
Today we’re taking a closer look at black tea in its various forms, from smoky and chocolatey to bright and citrusy. Wondering when to add milk, or which variety is better for iced tea?
Step right in…
What is black tea?
Black tea comes from a shrub called Camellia sinensis. The aroma, taste, and color of black tea depend on factors such as the species of Camellia; the country, region, and garden or estate where it was grown; the year and season of harvest; the manufacturing method; and the grade. Today, black tea is primarily grown in China, India, Sri Lanka, and Kenya.
To manufacture black tea, the leaves are plucked and withered to reduce moisture. Then, the leaves may be left whole and rolled, known as orthodox process, or they may undergo a cut-tear-curl (CTC) process. Finally, the leaves are oxidized and dried. Black tea leaves are more oxidized than white, green, and oolong teas and generally have a stronger flavor and aroma.
In China this tea is known as “red tea” (qi hong or hong cha), referring to the color of its brew, whereas “black tea” refers to pu-erh tea.
History of Black Tea
No one is certain exactly when and where black tea was invented, but there are two stories that may explain the first discovery of black tea. The “Wuyi” theory, thought to be one theory about the creation of oolong tea, is also significant in Chinese black tea history. Compressed tea cakes had been made in the Wuyi Mountains since the Song Dynasty. When the emperor of the Ming Dynasty demanded a shift to loose leaf tea production, the tea producers made several attempts at making premium loose leaf teas. During this new process, tea leaves would turn red as a sign of fermentation. Because of the red color of the tea leaves, black tea was readily known as red tea in China .
Another story of black tea’s invention takes place in the Chinese village of Tong Mu. Sometime during the 16th century, army soldiers passing through Tong Mu village temporarily stopped production of green tea. The soldiers made beds out of piles of tea leaves and when they finally left the village, the tea leaves had turned black. Tea processing was resumed with these black tea leaves and a new kind of loose tea was born.
Types of black tea
Some of the major types of black tea include:
- Assam: Grown in northeastern India, this tea is full-bodied, dark, and malty. It is used in many tea blends such as masala chai, English Breakfast, and Irish Breakfast. Good with milk and sugar.
- Ceylon: Grown in the mountains of Sri Lanka, this tea is lively and bright with citrus notes.
- Darjeeling: Grown on a small number of estates in India’s Himalayas, this prized tea is delicate, floral, and fruity. It is known as the “Champagne of tea.” Best served without milk or sugar.
- Keemun: Grown in the Anhui province of eastern China, this tea is full-bodied, smooth, and fruity.
- Nilgiri: Grown in southern India, this tea is fragrant with low tannins and astringency. Makes a good iced tea.
- Lapsang Souchong: Grown in the Fujian province of southeastern China, this deep, smoky, robust tea is smoked over pine or spruce wood.
- Yunnan: Grown in southwestern China, this tea is rich and sweet with chocolate notes.
Black tea is often blended and mixed with various other plants in order to obtain a beverage.
Earl Grey tea: Black tea with bergamot oil.
English Breakfast tea: Full-bodied, robust, and/or rich, and blended to go well with milk and sugar.
English afternoon tea: Medium bodied, bright and refreshing. Strong Assam and Kenyan teas are blended with Ceylon which adds a light, brisk quality to the blend.
Irish breakfast tea: Blend of several black teas: most often Assam teas and, less often, other types of black tea.
Masala chai: Combines black tea, spices, milk, and a sweetener such as sugar or honey; a traditional beverage from India which has been adapted in the West with changes to the method of preparation.
Russian caravan: An aromatic, smoky blend. Often made with Keemun and Lapsang Souchong teas.
In the United States, citrus fruits such as orange or lemon, or their respective rinds, are often used to create flavored black teas, sometimes in conjunction with spices (such as cinnamon). These products can be easily confused with citrus-based herbal teas, but the herbal products will generally be labelled as having no caffeine; whereas, the tea-based products do contain caffeine.
Milk, Sugar & Lemon for Black Teas
Some black teas are intended to be drunk with milk and / or sugar, while others are self drinkers . Teas that are traditionally drunk with milk and / or sugar include Masala Chai, English Breakfast and Assam black tea. Teas that are traditionally drunk with lemon and / or sugar include Earl Grey (which is not traditionally consumed with milk), iced Ceylon teas and Nilgiri black teas.
Iced Black Tea
In the United States, the vast majority of black tea is consumed as iced tea. Traditionally, iced tea has been more popular in the Southeastern U.S. than elsewhere in the U.S., but this is gradually changing with the widespread popularity of bottled and canned iced teas, which are available in most grocery stores and convenience stores across the country.
Iced black teas are usually served sweetened in the South and unsweetened in the North. Some people drink “half and half” iced tea, which refers to a 50-50 mixture of sweetened and unsweetened iced teas. Besides sugar, popular additives for iced tea include lemon, honey and fresh mint leaves.
Grades of black tea
Black tea is graded according to the size of the leaf, which can affect its brewing rate and how nuanced or pungent the flavor is. One is not necessarily better than the other; for example, fannings from a high quality tea may taste better than broken leaves from a lower quality tea.
Whole leaf: Whole leaf tea requires greater skill to pluck and process and accounts for only about 5 to 10 percent of all tea produced. It is sold as looseleaf tea or sometimes in tea bags.
Broken leaf: This is sold as looseleaf tea or used in tea bags.
Fannings: Leftover from the processing of higher grade teas, these small leaf pieces are used in tea bags.
Dust: Like fannings, these leftover leaf particles are used in tea bags. They have the fastest brewing time and least nuanced flavor.
Pairing Black Teas With Foods
Black teas’ bold flavors make them ideal for pairing with Western foods. Most of the top ten teas for afternoon tea are black teas, as are most teas consumed with breakfast foods. Black teas may also pair well with some Indian foods, Thai foods and African foods.
Caffeine in Black Tea
Generally speaking, black tea contains 50 to 90 mg of caffeine per cup. However, there are many factors influencing caffeine levels in tea which may make a particular cup of black tea higher or lower. For example, a masala chai will likely have less caffeine than a pure Assam tea because it is blended with spices, which do not contain caffeine.
Plain black tea without sweeteners or additives contains negligible quantities of calories, protein, sodium, and fat. Some flavored tea with different herbs added may have less than 1 gram of carbohydrates. All teas from the camellia tea plant are rich in polyphenols, which are a type of antioxidant.
Drinking a moderate amount of black tea (one to four cups a day) may boost blood pressure slightly, but the effect does not last long. And drinking this amount of black tea is not associated with long-term high blood pressure.
A 2001 Boston University study concluded that short and long-term black tea consumption reverses endothelial vasomotor dysfunction in patients with coronary artery disease. This finding may partly explain the association between tea intake and decreased cardiovascular disease events.
In 2006, a German study concluded that the addition of milk prevents vascular protective effects of tea.
Theaflavin-3-gallate, a theaflavin derivative found in black tea, could reduce the incorporation of cholesterol into mixed micelle abstract.
How to Make Black Tea
Of all the types of tea, black tea is usually the easiest to steep. To make black tea, you simply use about one teaspoon of tealeaves per cup of hot water. The water can be at a rolling boil or nearly boiling. Steep the tealeaves for two to six minutes (depending on your tastes and the type of black tea; Darjeeling black teas usually taste better with a shorter steep) and then strain out the tealeaves. Add milk, sugar and / or lemon if desired.
Alternately, you can use cold water and cold steep (“cold infuse” or “cold brew”) your black tea for four to eight hours in the fridge, then strain out the leaves.
To make iced black tea, you can double the amount of tealeaves, steep the tea as usual, and then pour the hot tea over ice.
The Best Black Teas
One of the best black teas is Teavana Golden Monkey. This loose leaf black tea was chosen by the White House to serve at the State Dinner on January 19, 2011 during a visit by the President of China. Teavana Black Dragon Pearls Black Tea is another one of the best black teas; this hand-rolled pearl tea is from the Yunnan province of China.
Many flavored varieties of loose black teas have become very popular, such as our Teavana Cacao Mint Black Tea . Refreshing peppermint compliments creamy cocoa pieces in this rich dessert-like treat. Another favorite in our flavored black teas is Earl Grey Creme Black Tea. It’s a rich combination of the classic loose Earl Grey Black Tea with flavors of creamy vanilla blended with sunny yellow marigold petals.
Last, pu-erh teas are premium black teas aged in caves for up to 15 years. Pu-erh teas have a smooth and earthy flavor.