Black tea is very simple as far as the production process is concerned – the leaves are plucked, left to wilt and allowed to fully oxidise in the air.
Throughout the world, black tea is referred to because of the very dark colour of the final leaves. But beware, in China they refer to black tea as red tea because of the colour of the brew. So don’t be confused by the different designations.
In China they use the term Hongcha = red tea.
Black tea is a popular drink not only at breakfast because of its rich taste and aroma. Find out what exactly black tea is, what types you can enjoy and how it benefits human health.
What is black tea
Black tea is obtained from the leaves of the evergreen tea tree of two species. Camellia sinensis has shorter leaves and is primarily grown in China and surrounding countries. Camellia sinensis assamica has larger leaves and is mainly grown in parts of India and Sri Lanka. To produce black tea from this plant, the way it is processed is important. Black tea is the most oxidised of all the species and its flavour is therefore the most pronounced.
This is achieved by allowing the tea leaves to fully oxidize before they are cooked.
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How is black tea grown?
Tea plants thrive best in cooler climates with annual rainfall of at least 100 centimetres per year, i.e. monsoon climates. Therefore, countries such as China, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Taiwan and Kenya are typical growers. This tropical plant is best suited to areas from 2500 metres above sea level to high altitude. The quality of the plants increases with higher altitude, but they grow more slowly.
The frequency of harvesting also varies according to altitude, but at a minimum it is harvested twice a year.
Tea plants are grown as bushes in rows and the bushes are kept one metre high for easier harvesting. They are most often propagated by cuttings, which guarantee uniform plants. They root and are planted out in eight weeks, reaching maturity in three to five years.
The plant then lasts thirty to a hundred years to produce quality tea leaves. Once the plants reach maturity, they are specially pruned. Only the top two leaves and buds are removed to keep the plants in the early stages of growth.
This will encourage new shoots and maximize harvest. In order to maintain their quality, the tea leaves are mostly hand-picked.
How is black tea drunk?
Before drinking a particular tea, it is best to check the manufacturer’s recommended procedure. This is because it can vary according to the type.
In general, however, the following can be done:
- Let the water boil to the boiling point or just to the boiling point for more delicate teas, such as the first pickings of the Darjeeling type. For these, it is better to use water before the boiling point and a shorter infusion.
- For one cup (250 ml), 1 teaspoon of loose tea or 1 tea bag is sufficient. Pour boiled water over the tea, for loose tea it is advisable to use an infuser.
- Do not let the tea infuse for too long, 3-5 minutes is sufficient. If the tea has the right taste, you can try during the infusion and possibly leave it a little longer. To maintain the intense aroma and temperature, cover the cup while steeping.
- Most black teas have such a strong flavour that other flavourings (milk, honey, sugar or lemon) complement them perfectly.
The most famous types of black tea
Black tea is grown all over the world, but the most famous are the four countries whose specific growing locations also give their names to the teas.
Each of these countries produces tea with different characteristics:
- India: one of the strongest teas are those from the province of Assam, the milder ones with distinct muscat and fruit notes come from the province of Darjeeling. Teas from the Nilgiri region are sweet and fragrant.
- Sri Lanka: Originally known as Ceylon, it also gave its name to the local teas. They vary according to the specific growing location, but are generally strong, fresh and with a hint of spice.
- China: All teas were born in China, and it is the Chinese black ones that have special leaf shapes according to specific provinces. They are generally more complex, more delicate and have a sweeter aftertaste. One of the most famous is Keemun from Anhui province.
- Kenya: The local black tea has a distinct, full-bodied flavour and is very strong.
What are the health benefits of black tea?
- It contains a lot of antioxidants: these fight free radicals and thus help overall health.
- Reduces the risk of diabetes: when you drink black tea regularly, your blood sugar levels are reduced.
- Improves digestion: makes digestion more efficient and relieves indigestion. It can help prevent the growth of bacteria that cause ulcers and also helps relieve digestive discomforts such as diarrhea.
- Increases energy and concentration: as it is a tea that has one of the highest proportions of caffeine. Thanks to the amino acid L-theanine, it is absorbed more smoothly and acts more effectively.
- Protects the heart:because it reduces high blood pressure. It also lowers cholesterol levels and helps prevent strokes as well.
- Improves oral health: reduces plaque on teeth and prevents bacterial growth.