What makes a tea black?
A tea is deemed black when it is at least 80% oxidized. This means that the leaves are not toasted right after harvest like green or white tea but are actually bruised and massaged and left to turn dark brown or even black- hence this tea's name.
Oxidation is a chemical reaction that happens in the tea leaf at a molecular level. Oxidation happens naturally after a leaf is picked and can be sped up by damaging the leaf somehow- rolling and massaging are two common techniques. The more a leaf is oxidized, the darker it becomes.
Major Black Tea Producers and Consumers
Just like the other types of tea, black tea originated in China. However, it has since spread and become a staple of many other countries in the world.
INDIA. The most prized and high quality Indian black tea is Darjeeling. This tea comes from the Himalayan Mountains, a tea-growing area with one of the highest elevations in the world- reaching up to almost 8,500 feet. Tea was brought to India for the first time in the 19th century by the English who took seedlings from China. The English were hoping for cheaper imports and a more convenient trade partner in their Indian colony than they had with the Chinese.
UNITED KINGDOM. Every big tea consuming culture has their own ceremonies and traditional methods of preparing and enjoying tea. People from the UK traditionally drink black tea, strongly steeped with a touch of milk and sugar. The cause of UK's love of tea can be partly attributed to its colonial history with India. The English had trading advantages with India that allowed cheap tea import so it was easy for them to buy and drink abundantly.
CHINA. The most famous Chinese black tea is called Keemun. Keemun is from Eastern China, the Qimen County in Anhui Province. This area of China is known for its significant monsoon season. During the summer, monsoons bring heavy rain fall. This tropical climate is what makes this region so appealing to the tea plant and allows it to grow.
KENYA. Although its history as a tea producer is not as old as China or India's, Kenya rivals these two countries in terms of production volume. Most of Kenya's exports are in black tea and produced by small farms. These small farms are represented under the Kenya Tea Development Authority (KTDA), which sells the tea under its name. Kenya offers the ideal climate and rich volcanic soil for the farming of tea plants.
SRI LANKA. Sri Lanka is the world's 4th largest tea producer and is known for its Ceylon black tea. Ceylon was the colonial name of the country and was given to this type of tea. Sri Lanka is known for tea plantations at high elevations of up to 8,000 feet, which produces better quality tea than low elevation plants. Additionally, strong and hot winds in this part of the world affect the flavor of the tea and give it distinct characteristics.
How It's Made
Learn how black tea is harvested and processed from Don at Mei Leaf.
Variations of Camellia Sinensis
There are 2 variations of the Camellia Sinensis plant- large and small leaf versions. The small leaf version, called Camelia Sinensis var Sinensis, is the original and oldest form of the tea plant. The big leaf version, called Camellia Sinensis var Assamica, is most common in Indian black teas.
Camellia Sinensis var Assamica is grown in Assam, India. This tea is often processed using the CTC method- cut, tear, curl. The CTC method is used for tea bags and creates a much stronger tea than other processing methods. When the leaf is torn and the cell walls damaged, the leaf quickly releases all its flavor and aromatic compounds during the first infusion. For this reason, CTC tea is usually only good for one infusion.