Everything you need to know about Black Tea
Black Tea is one of the most popular drinks in the world. Centuries upon centuries of tea drinkers have exchanged, reinterpreted, and enjoyed this heartwarming beverage. But what is Black Tea? Where does Black Tea come from? How is Black Tea made? Is Black Tea good for you?
In this article, we delve deep into these questions and try to understand everything about this charming tea.
1. What is Black Tea?
Black Tea comes from the leaves of the same plant as Green, Oolong, White, and Pu-Erh teas: Camellia Sinensis.
Interesting fact: Throughout history, the Chinese have thought of Black Tea as “Red tea”, because they identified types of teas based on the tea liquor and not the tea leaf itself. In fact, Pu-Erh tea used to be 'Black tea' for the Chinese, due to the deeply dark brewing liquor this fermented tea produces.
2. How is Black Tea made?
Black Tea is by far the most diverse of all teas in terms of country, region, manufacturing method, terroir, and taste.
There are 5 main stages in the production of Black Tea:
Withering is the first step in all types of tea processing. The leaves are left to dry (either in the sun or under controlled factory circumstances) in order for the green leaves to soften and evaporate the excess water, from around 80% to 70%. Withering also softens and makes the leaf more elastic in preparation for the next stage. This step is essential as it facilitates the onsetting of oxidation and enhances the color and aroma of the tea.
After withering, there are two types of processing that occur with Black tea:
Orthodox tea processing -
results in the high-quality whole-leaves that you find in premium shops.
CTC tea (cut-tear-curl) processing -
results in the Black tea bags you find on supermarket shelves and the like.
Before starting the rolling process, tea makers give the leaves a quick sifting to eliminate matter such as sand, stones, or metal which might be leftover from the harvest or factory.
For the Orthodox tea method, the leaves go inside a rolling machine which breaks their cell walls and exposes them to oxygen. The rolling action mixes the enzymes and polyphenols present in tea, starting the oxidation process and releasing the natural ‘juices’ and chemicals. This process requires careful attention from the tea master, so as to avoid too much heat generated due to friction.
For the CTC method, the leaves go through a special machine that crushes, tears, and curls the leaves simultaneously. Thus, you obtain the granular aspect of Black tea bags. This process has a significant impact on the appearance, fiber, liquor, and brew of the tea.
III. Rollbreaking & Sifting
On this process, Mary Lou Heiss in her book "The Story of Tea" says,
“Because the release of the enzymatic juice during the rolling process causes the leaf to start to bunch and clump, the next step is roll-breaking and sifting. By breaking up the clumping masses of leaf back into individual rolled leaf, this intermediate step aerates the clumps, reduces the temperature of the leaf, and does a preliminary sieving. This process also helps to evenly coat the leaf with the enzymatic juices, ensuring that superior oxidation can take place.”
Oxidation is the most iconic step of the processing of Black Tea, as it is the biggest differentiator from the other teas. As mentioned before, oxidation starts developing even from the first stage, withering, all the way through the rolling step.
After rollbreaking & sifting, the leaves are spread on a big surface in a moist, cool, oxygen-rich room, where the humidity in the air should be between 15-20%. The interaction of the leaves with the air starts the production of theaflavins, which are responsible for the brisk and energetic taste of black tea.
The catechins (polyphenols) in the leaf absorb a significant quantity of oxygen, particularly during the early stages of oxidation. The interaction of these with polyphenols present in the tea leaf produces the distinctive body and color of black tea. Finally, the onsetting of amino acids and sugar in the leaves create the substances that give Black tea its unique flavor.
The final step in processing Black Tea is drying, which aims to level the moisture down to 3% and stop the enzyme interaction and reaction. After the leaves go through an air dryer and the process is done, their final stop is in a sifter to sort the tea into pieces of roughly equal sizes: whole leaf (the highest quality), broken, fannings (used for tea bags - lower quality), and dust.
3. Black Tea types & origins
The many varieties and places Black tea comes from give it a special status. The not-so-exciting part, however, is that the majority of the world's black tea is grown for the tea bag industry, meaning that most cups that tea drinkers enjoy do not actually contain top-quality, whole-leaf tea.
Unblended black teas are usually named after the region they grow in (similar to any tea). The most popular are:
Grown in the Fujian Province of China. This tea works beautifully with whisky cocktails, as it has a strong smoky flavor and a dark fruit aroma. The brew has a warm golden color.
Grown in the Anhui Province of China. It's not difficult to fall in love with this tea, with its brisk, full-bodied flavor and clean floral aroma. The infusion brings a golden-red liquor.
Grown in the Assam region of India. It has a smooth, malty taste with a nutty aroma and a copper-like liquor.
Grown in the West Bengal region of India. Darjeeling is described as having a 'muscatel' flavour, making it quite unique in the tea world. It has a crisp aroma with a medium golden color.
Grown in Sri Lanka. This tea produces a bright copper liquor, with pointy flavors and a bright aroma.
Black tea is also versatile in that many tea blends use its varieties. A few of our favorite black tea blends are:
- The classic Earl Grey tea - Darjeeling, Ceylon, and Assam beautifully blended with Bergamot oil and Bergamot peel. Darjeeling and Ceylon are light, whereas Assam brings a malty depth to the cup. The final floral note of the Bergamot makes this brew one of a kind, easy to fall in love with.
- English Breakfast - Keemun or Assam, Ceylon, and Kenyan black tea make this tea the iconic blend that everyone enjoys having in the morning with some milk and sugar. The blends were often tailored to the softness or hardness of the waters from the regions they were created for. If you're trying to find the perfect recipe, look no further - few reputable companies give away the secrets of this blend ;)
- Masala Chai - The perfect blend for yogis and the like. This Black tea blend is deeply embedded within the Indian culture and for good reason - the combination of cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, ground cloves, ginger, and black peppercorn give you an infusion of strength and tranquility, perfect for both tranquil minds and adventure seekers.
4. The Health benefits of Black Tea
All tea varieties have special benefits. This is thanks to the unique chemical composition of the Camellia Sinensis plant. It is rich in “flavonoid polyphenols'', especially the natural antioxidant called “catechin”. These protect blood cells and give tea its medicinal properties. Tea also contains l-theanine, a special amino acid that boosts our mood and brings a sense of relaxation.
Before we dive into the main health benefits of Black tea, it's important to note that while Black tea does contain a good amount of caffeine, the brewing time and method matter more. Some Black tea varieties (even within the same type, such as Assam), have a higher caffeine content than others. It's important to know your brand and brewing method.
Here's the 5 main health benefits that Black tea offers you:
1. Increases your energy levels
The gradual caffeine release that Black tea gives in comparison to coffee is what makes many of us brew a warm cup of black tea in the morning rather than an espresso. This comes as a result of the caffeine interactions with the l-theanine found in tea. Drinking this tea will make you alert yet relaxed, making it the perfect aid in whichever part of the day you’re looking for a pick-me-up.
2. May help with preventing heart disease
Multiple studies show that black tea, due to the high levels of antioxidants and flavonoids it contains, can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, lowering the risks associated with heart diseases.  
3. Helps with a smooth digestion
The tannins and other chemical components present in Black tea are excellent aids in relaxing your digestive system. One study even showed that the anti-inflammatory quality of tea is potentially relevant to fighting stomach ulcers. 
4. Improves the health of your skin and hair
Black tea is used in many cultures to combat skin and hair problems. Commercially sold face or hair masks and home remedies often use black tea, as the polyphenols and catechins contain anti-aging, photoprotective, and antioxidant properties. 
5. Black tea relaxes your mind
Not only does this tea type make you more energetic, but it also has stress-relieving properties. The L-theanine and EGCG in Black tea have the ability to lift your mood and potential to benefit people with mental illness. 
Apart from having a variety of health benefits, black tea also has the longest shelf life, of over 2 years. Be mindful of flavoured teas or blends with spices and fruits, though - they may degrade more quickly.
5. Brewing guide
One of the greatest appeals of Black tea is that it is not sensitive to water temperature, unlike White tea, which requires a specific brewing process.
Generally, you should use spring or filtered water when brewing tea. Put a teaspoon of Black tea in an infuser and let it unfold into a cup of water boiled at a temperature between 90ºC and 100ºC (boiling water temperature, around 212F).
You can steep this tea for a minimum of 3 minutes and for as long as 5 minutes, depending on the flavour profile you are looking for.
Finally, to fully enjoy the flavour and beauty of Black tea, you should serve it without any sweetner, cream, or milk. However, depending on the variety you're having, you may choose to indulge yourself!