Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world after water. Generally, when the word ‘Tea’ comes into context, Black tea comes to our mind. Black tea takes the higher percentage of the share.
Black tea is one of the most common and popular tea variants in every culture. It is used as a base tea for making some of the most popular blends such as Earl Grey Black, English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, Malty Breakfast, Iced Tea, Chai, etc.
Today, three countries that take credit for the major percentage of black tea production are India, Africa and Sri Lanka. India is the one contributing to the production of half of the world’s black tea.
What is Black Tea?
Black tea, commonly known as ‘Red Tea’ in China and ‘Lal Chai’ in India, is the most oxidized tea than the other primary tea types (Oolong tea, Green tea, and White tea).
There are four major types of black teas based on the regions (Assam, Darjeeling, Kenyan, and Ceylon) they are grown. Assam and Darjeeling are some of the largest and superior quality tea producing regions in the world.
What Makes Black Tea So Great?
One of the greatest aspects of black teas is that the flavour can be retained to almost perfect for several years if stored properly. In fact, in the 19th century, Tibet and Mongolia were some of the countries where compressed and dried bricks of black teas were effectively used as a form of currency because the loss of the quality of the tea was close to none.
Black tea is often consumed as morning or afternoon tea because it contains caffeine and theophylline that are responsible for stimulating your brain and heart rate. These substances are proven to make the mind and body more alert.
Apart from this, consuming black tea has many other benefits like improving cardiovascular health, digestion, blood circulation, and many other that make it one of the most health beneficial teas.
Black tea has two variants- 1) Orthodox (Whole leaves) and 2) Non-Orthodox (CTC or Crush Tear Curl). During the production of both variants, the tea leaves are left to fully oxidize prior to being heat-processed and dried.
Below are the sequential processes that black tea goes through during its production phase.
Orthodox: Withering → Rolling → Oxidizing (Fermenting) → Hot Air Drying/Pan Fry Drying
CTC: Withering → Crushing/Tearing/Curling → Oxidizing (Fermenting) → Hot Air Drying/Pan Fry Drying
Due to a higher level of oxidation, the chemical reaction between oxygen and plant cells changes the colour of the leaves from green to blackish brown to black colour. While the orthodox variant consists of strands of hand-rolled or machine-rolled leaves, the CTC teas are tiny, hard pellets of leaves.
Along with altering the appearance of the tea leaves, oxidation also enhances the flavour profile of the tea. Flavours of black teas can vary from a combination of malty, brisk, earthy, spiced, nutty, citrus, caramel, fruity, sweet, honey, and smoky notes. Various factors like the black tea type (Orthodox or CTC), level of oxidation, processing and region they were grown play a major role in distinguishing the black tea flavours.
The teas are often passed through smoke chambers to gain a distinct smoky flavour. The colour of the liquor, flavour profile and astringency level in Orthodox are comparatively lighter, delicate and smoother than CTC teas. CTC tea is usually enjoyed with milk and sugar and is also used as a base tea for making Masala chai.
Origin Of Black Tea
China is considered the mother of tea. Before the 1600s, the people of China enjoyed almost all of the teas produced in the country. However, many factors like colonization, trade, and migration that led people to cross borders popularized tea culture, especially in Europe.
China produced green teas. However, while transporting teas across continents, the main challenge was to retain the quality of the teas. It was soon discovered that the more the teas were oxidized, the longer the teas retained their freshness. Eventually, black teas came into existence.
Thanks to the Dutch who first introduced tea in Europe, the 1600s saw the popularization of teas in Europe. By 1800, tea was one of the most popular drinks in Europe where black tea was more favoured than its green cousin.
Tea was already popular among British people when they colonized India. They, like most Europeans, preferred full-bodied, strong black teas. The discovery of a new tea plant variety in Assam, India wrote a new chapter of black tea production in the world. The best thing about this variety was that it produced strong black teas just as the British people liked. This new variety was named ‘Assamica’ (Camellia Sinensis Assamica) and was introduced to many other regions of India (especially Darjeeling) for plantation.