There is a reason why tea is pegged as a culture in itself. There is so much history associated with it; so many long-standing traditions that start and end with tea, and so many human lives that somehow come together for producing just one cup of perfectly brewed tea. For a simple cup of tea, its story is anything but so.

And in the case of one particular tea, just the stories and conventions about it could make up a standalone dissertation (for real).

Lo and Behold, the mighty Black Tea.

I have always loved black tea and it has been my ultimate companion through many good reads. And while I could just write about that, for this particular post, I will keep aside my rainy day sentiments. In this post I will try to give you an unbiased sneak-peek into the world of Black Teas. And I promise to leave enough room for you to explore this tea yourself.

The Legend

One of my favorite stories about Black Tea goes something like this:

Sometime around the early 17th century in China, an army troop happened to pass over the Fujian Province. They decided to take a break at a tea factory in the Wuyi Mountain area after a long days stride. Because of their unceremonious arrival, tea production at the factory was held up momentarily. Once the army left, the leaves had turned unusually dark in color. Fearing a great loss, the farmer decided to process the tea leaves anyway. It so happened that he fired the now-dark tea leaves over wood fire which imparted a distinct smoky flavor to the tea. This is when Black Tea (or what the Chinese called Lapsong Souchong) was born – an accident gone horribly well.

The Misnomer

It so happens that what westerners today refer to as the black tea is what Chinese folks actually refer to as the red tea. The misnomer was, actually, quite incidental. When the Dutch and English traders came looking for tea, they took notice of this unusually dark tea which produced a richer flavor as compared to the un-fermented teas, had a darker hue, boasted a higher caffeine content, and lasted well all through the trade journey. They happened to call it the black tea and the name just stuck.

In reality, Chinese use the term Black Tea for the post-fermented classification of teas, also called the Pu-erh Teas, typically grown in the Yunnan province.

The Skinny on Black Teas

Making black tea is a long-drawn-out effort. The quality of the outcome is as much about the quality of the leaves as it is about the process these leaves are subjected to.

It all starts by picking young shoots and thin buds from large-leaved Assamese tea plant or the small-leaved Chinese tea plant. The difference is that larger leaves yield a stronger flavor while smaller leaves render a stronger aroma.

Once plucked, the fresh tea leaves can beprocessed in two ways for producing black tea: Orthodox or CTC. CTC method is largely mechanized while orthodox method is long-drawn and requires more dedicated efforts. It’s safe to assume that the latter process produces the best kind of Black Tea.

For processing fresh tea leaves in an orthodox way, the leaves areput through 5 intense stages:

Withering: At this stage, fresh leaves are subjected to hot air for removing some of their water content. This also softens the leaves and prepares them for the next stage.

Rolling: Withered leaves are rolled (typically) into strip-shape by hand or a machine in order to extract essential oils. Upon rolling, the oil gets evenly impregnated into the said batch of tea.

Oxidation: This stage is a critical one. The level of oxidation a batch of tea has been subjected to determines the aroma, flavor and texture of a Black Tea. The best quality black teas result from precision exercised at this stage in terms of regulating the temperature, humidity, how the leaves are laid out and their oxidation time so that the flavor profile develops as anticipated.

Firing: Once a desired degree of oxidation has been achieved, the leaves are dried by firing them in an oven kiln or over wood-fire. It is at this stage, the leaves acquire their distinctive black color and smoky aroma.

Grading: When the leaves have dried up, they are cooled and sorted in terms of their size and quality grade.

black tea leaves It is a fact that Black Teas last longer in comparison to other teas; sometimes for years at a stretch. And its only because they are processed more extensively than any other variety of tea. This was one of the main reasons European traders preferred carrying Black Teas over un-processed teas.

Fun fact: Back in the day, some provinces went as far as to offer bricks of compressed black teas as de facto currency because of its lasting nature. Talk about making a statement!

The Bespoke Features

Black teas are renowned for having a strong flavor profile. Its liquor is typically characterized as having dark amber color, robust and full-bodied texture, smoky aroma with a distinct malty flavor, and an astringent aftertaste.

To cut such brisk flavors, Black Teas are typically consumed with some sort of an additive to mellow the taste. The most commonly used additive is milk. Some prefer using lemon, honey and/or sugar.

When to devour a cuppa Black Tea

Now this is where it gets even more interesting. Black teas have been the ultimate choice for breakfast teas and afternoon teas. And the reason behind it is that black teas (including the darker Pu-erh variety) lend themselves to a range of flavor combinations and additives far better than a green tea, white or oolong could.

Take Assam Tea, for instance – one of the most popular Black tea varieties in the entire world. Assam tea blends have long been used for English Breakfast Tea and Irish Breakfast Tea. It is also the classic choice for various Chai blends. (Thats my wake-me-up tea right there!)

Then there are the Darjeeling First Flush and Darjeeling Second Flush teas – are two of the most prized Black Tea varieties in the world. Swashed with well-rounded, complex flavors and fine texture, Darjeeling Black Tea has been the staple choice for royalties all over the world, just in case you were wondering.

Healthy, Much? Absolutely

The biggest health element in black tea comes from the fact that it is rich in antioxidants. This makes black tea a good energizing beverage. In fact, some studies claim that consumption of black tea is helpful in mitigating diseases associated with the coronary artery.

Black teas have also been known to improve ones immune system, lower risk of diabetes, promote good bone health and oral health.

So there you go. This has been your introduction to the fascinating world of black teas.

If you share my enthusiasm for this tea, drop a comment below and well discuss more over a cup of tea. (Black, of course).

To explore some fine Black teas, check out Teabox’s selection

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