Simple explanation of a black tea.
Black tea gets its name from its finished processed color.
There are exceptions to this that are still included in the black category but
are far from black. My favorite non-black tea color is Darjeeling first flush
that is more green/brown because of its early picking and processing. Some others
are Yunnan Gold, brown gold color, and some Chinese Red teas that are more of a
This is a very simple description of the processing of black
tea. After picking (plucking) the tea leaves are put in trays in the sun to
remove moisture – this is called withering. The leaves are then rolled to break
the edges so that they can then be oxidized in a climate control room. Then
dried and packaged. Black teas, like Assams, are 100% oxidized in comparison to
green & oolongs that are 5 to 50% oxidized.
There are two main types of black processing – orthodox and
CTC. The orthodox method is a gentler way of processing the higher quality loose
leaf whole teas that has been similar in concept for hundreds of years. The
mass production method of cut, tear and curl is the process used for the broken
and fannings type small leaf that is used in tea bags. I liken this to the old
English penalty for treason of being hung drawn and quartered.
Black teas are brewed longer than other types, around 4 to 5
minutes for loose leaf teas and brewed in boiling water. Water should be as hot
as possible and that it why many drinkers heat the teapot before brewing.
Because of the processing and the longer brewing times black teas have the
highest caffeine levels, 50 to 60 milligrams per 5 oz cup. That is why the
breakfast teas, like English & Irish, use one of the highest caffeine teas,
Assam, to give the high caffeine to help drinkers start the day. One of the
disadvantages of these types of tea is that they are astringent and many
people add milk and sugar.
Most of the black teas used in quality breakfast blends come
from India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) . Other countries that are big suppliers are
China, Kenya and Rwanda. USA buys most of its black tea from Argentina for use in
ice tea that does not have such high quality. Some very expensive black teas
can come from Hawaii and the old Russian republic of Georgia. We stock two of
their outstanding teas that are hand-picked and hand processed – Georgian Old
Lady and Natela’s Gold.
Apart from the Breakfast blend there are afternoon blends
and a famous one is a Russian Caravan that consists of Keemum from China and
Darjeeling from India. A smoked tea from China, Lapsang Souchong, is to some
people like drinking a barbecue fire – great with an Indian Curry.
India uses an alpha method of grading its teas. With the “P”
signifying the leaf (pekoe) and then the preface letters showing the quality.
There is also, which is very confusing to most people, an “O” before the “P”
that stands for orange. Not an orange flavored tea. This dates back to the
early importing of tea into Holland and the King of Orange. Without trying to
cover all the types, these are two extremes of quality – BOP means a broken
leaf and SFTGFOP is a special finest tippy golden flowery orange pekoe.
So having touched on quality what is the difference between
tea bags and loose leaf tea. Well firstly the loose leaf tea is in the range of
4 to 20 times more expensive, so a little like wine, some drinkers don’t appreciate
the unique special flavors. They should stay with tea bags, especially if
they have to put in milk and sugar. Rip open a tea bag to see the type and size
of the tea and compare with a loose leaf. Also compare after brewing and you
might be surprised or perhaps horrified. There are some good tea bags, some
pyramid style loose leaf tea, but the majority are very poor quality. For a
good quality loose leaf tea you only have to pay around 50 cents a cup so about
the same price as a soda and much healthier.
If you want to find out more about tea check out some of the
Tea Articles under our brewing tab.