Tea Knowledge

Black Tea

The Complete Guide To Black Tea:

Origin, Varieties, Quality, Flavors, Preparation and More.

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Black Tea – Gräfenhof Tee GmbH

What is Black Tea?

People who talk about tea in Western cultures usually mean black tea. 

Sun tea, sweet tea, iced tea, afternoon tea – almost all common tea recipes are based on black tea. Even the popular English Breakfast and Earl Grey blends are made from black tea leaves.

By black tea, we mean the tea bags found all over the world, but not least in the country that has made tea so popular around the world: Great Britain.

Although tea bags are now available in almost every grocery store, the international standard for serving tea was not always a “bag”. This was only introduced in Britain about 100 years ago and represented a radical change. Prior to that, people in both Britain and the rest of Europe drank only loose leaf tea. 

In most Western countries, virtually only black tea bags were consumed until 20 years ago. This is because the processing method for black tea lends itself particularly well to tea bags. 

In contrast, in many Oriental and East Asian cultures such as China and Japan, green tea is the tea of choice.  In these countries, tea is usually offered as loose leaf tea rather than in tea bags.

Black Tea: Origins

Black tea was discovered by accident, so to speak, in China in the mid-17th century. For centuries, only green and oolong tea had been drunk until an event that would change the course of tea history forever.  

Legend has it that one day an army from Jianxi invaded Fujian province and set up camp near a tea factory. 

This unplanned stay delayed production at the factory. The tea leaves were also exposed to the sun longer than normal and oxidized. The oxidation process also changed their color from green to dark red. 

Eventually, a farmer laid the leaves out over a fire of pine branches to “save” the tea and speed up the drying process. This gave the leaves a smoky aroma.

The end result of the experiment was Lapsang Souchong tea, which is considered the original black tea. It was also the beginning of black tea production in China and and the triumphant march of black tea through the Western world.

Black Tea vs Green Tea:

The differeces

What are the main differences between black and green tea?

Both types of tea are derived from the same plant, Camellia Sinensis.

The difference between black and green tea lies in the processing of the tea leaves and in the variety (subspecies) of the plant used.

Black Tea Assam
Black Assam – Gräfenhof Tee GmbH

Black Tea: Processing

Black Tea Varieties

Black tea is obtained from two species of Camellia sinensis: Camellia sinensis-sinensis (origin: China) and Camellia sinensis-assamica (origin: India). 

A relevant difference lies in the size of the leaves: those of Camellia sinensis-sinensis are smaller than those of assamica. Both plants are 100% oxidized and processed into black tea.

The long oxidation phase is also responsible for the darker color of the tea leaves. Despite regional differences in black tea production methods, the following phases are always the same: withering, rolling, oxidizing and drying.

The two best known methods for the production and processing of black tea are the orthodox method and the CTC (Cut, Tear, Curl) method.

  • After harvesting, the leaves are first exposed to heat. This step can take up to 18 hours.  It reduces the water content of the tea leaves, which makes them more pliable. 
  • In the following step, the leaves are mechanically pressed and twisted. This initiates the oxidation process. After the leaves are oxidized and cut, they are oxidized a second time, this time in fresh air.
  • In the next step, the polyphenol content of the tea develops. Its aroma is also now formed. 
  • Finally, in the fourth and last step, the tea leaves are dried. This process also takes place by machine. The oxidation process is now complete.

The second method, is called the CTC method

This method was developed in the 1950s, shortly after the invention of the tea bag and its main objective is to make the size of tea leaves suitable for use in tea bags.

  • In the CTC method, large quantities of tea leaves are cut into small pieces by machine so that they can then be filled into tea bags.
  • The first and last steps of the process are each similar to the orthodox method. The tea leaves are cut, torn and rolled in a rotor blade machine.
  • The different processing methods make black tea a very versatile product. Below we present some of the best known black teas from China and India, a selection of which we offer at Gräfenhof Tea.
CTC-Vs.-Orthodox-Tea-Grafenhof-Tee-GmbH-
CTC-Vs.-Orthodox-Tea-Grafenhof-Tee-GmbH

Black Tea: Oxidation

Tea oxidation is the process of exposing the tea leaves to air. All types of tea – black tea, green tea and oolong tea – come from the same plant and are distinguished primarily by the degree of oxidation. Green tea is not oxidised, whereas black tea is completely oxidised.

Food and Agriculture Organiyation of the United States

Since black tea undergoes specific changes for its color and flavor development that do not occur in the production of green and white tea, it can be considered the most processed type of tea.

Although black tea is grown and harvested in the same way as the other varieties; however, the leaves intended for black tea are bruised or rolled more to promote oxidation. This gives it its characteristic tart flavor. 

The oxidation process also has preservative properties, which made it much easier to transport to the West, especially in the past. On their journey of several months from their place of origin to Europe, the tea leaves remained largely intact, unlike less robust varieties. 

This is one of the main reasons why, since that time, the term “tea” has generally been associated with “black tea”. Not least because of this, black tea has been the most widespread and popular type of tea in the West since its introduction. 

Percentage-Oxidation-Tea-Leaf-1024x576
Tea Leaf oxidation

Black Tea: Varieties

In general, you can buy two types of black tea: 

  • Single Estate Teas 
  • Tea Blends

Most people are primarily familiar with tea blends, as popular blends such as breakfast teas or strong, inexpensive black teas are widely available. In recent years, however, pure single estate teas have become increasingly popular.

These are considered the most original way to enjoy a single tea variety. The tea usually comes from a single tea plantation or garden, so all the leaves have special characteristics, due to the uniqueness of each growing area. These include the exact tea variety, climatic and other geographical conditions, and processing methods. 

In order to achieve an excellent classification of the respective tea variety, single-estate teas are specially cultivated and usually named after their region.

Well-known regions with a high proportion of plantations where high-quality single-estate teas are grown and processed include Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Keemun, Nilgiri and Yunnan. 

“Single estate” teas are not limited to black tea; however, the designation “single estate” as a measure of the quality of cultivation is more popular for teas from India and Sri Lanka than for teas from China or other countries.

Black tea: Provenance

Black tea is now grown and processed all over the world under various climatic conditions.  It thrives almost everywhere, which is why many countries now have their own industry, ranging from very small to extremely large productions.

China and India are still the leaders in global tea production. They have historically produced many of the most famous teas, including various types of black tea. 

However, in recent years, countries such as Sri Lanka and Kenya have expanded their industries and secured large market shares. 

India, Sri Lanka and Kenya alone account for 93% of global tea production. By August 2021, a total of 894.52 million kilograms of tea had been produced globally, significantly higher than the 786.32 kilograms produced in the previous year (source: The Hindu Business Online and Global tea Digest).

Global black tea production Q2 2021 vs. Q2 2020 in million kg (mkg).

  1. India: 443,85 vs. 349,48 mkg
  2. Sri Lanka: 159,75 vs. 128,64 mkg
  3. Kenya: 230,8 vs. 255,22 mkg

As you can see, India occupies a top position in the production of black tea. In fact, India is the main black tea producing country and can claim half of the global production. 

Among the most famous varieties are: 

  • India:  Assam, Darjeeling und Nilgiri 
  • China:  Yunnan, Keemun, Lapsang und Pu Erh 
  • Ceylon from Sri Lanka. 

Many of the varieties mentioned are named after their growing region. Others, such as Lapsang, are named after the method that gives the tea leaves their special flavor. 

The different types of tea each have specific health benefits based on their respective properties.

These properties are also what make us prefer a certain type of tea.

Black tea lovers appreciate its strong and powerful flavor, but not everyone agrees on the definition of “best black tea”. In fact, the term is subjective, as it naturally depends on the taste of the individual.

In the next section of this article you will find a suggestion on how to find the best black tea for you by variety and country of the world.

Chinese Black Teas

Chinese Black Teas Gräfenhof Tee GmbH
Chinese Black Teas

Keemun Mao Fang

Keemun is probably one of the most popular and well-known black teas from China. It is known as the original “breakfast tea”. 

For a black tea, it is quite light in flavor and has both a fruity and a delicate, smoky aroma. Its sweet, malty flavor is not unlike that of unsweetened cocoa. It is very sweet and smooth, contains little tannins and is therefore not very bitter.

Finally, Keemun can also have a fragrance reminiscent of certain orchids.

This variety is grown exclusively in the city of Huangshan, Anhui Province, in China.

Lapsang Souchong

This tea is the original black tea. It was also the first black tea introduced to the Western world.

Originally, Lapsang Souchong was smoked over a fire of pine wood, which gives it its distinctive smoky flavor. Nowadays, other woods are also used, creating a variety of “smoke profiles.” 

However, not all Lapsang Souchong teas are intensively smoked. The unsmoked varieties are very different from what we normally call Lapsang Souchong. Their taste is reminiscent of sweet, ripe fruits and cocoa.

Congou

This tea is one of the great historical teas reminiscent of China’s trading era. Congou tea is grown in southern China. It is one of the last teas of its kind that are still marketed today.

The word Congou refers to a tea that is prepared with the utmost skill to obtain thin, light strips without breaking the leaves.

The resulting roasted black tea is mild and sweet, with an unsweetened baked apple flavor.

This tea became very popular in the 19th century and was the original basis for the “English Breakfast” blend. Its flavor is slightly sweet, but rich. It is often used in the preparation of kombucha.

Indian Teas

ASSAM

The Assam region of India was the first area of the country to be used by the British for tea cultivation.

The tea plants in this region are not Camellia Sinensis but Camellia Assamica. Any variety or cultivar from this area is called Assam tea.

Assam is grown at sea level (or very close by) and is known for its strong aroma, very dark color, and strong malt flavor. This unique flavor makes Assam a commonly used black tea variety in blends.

Assam TGFOP (a class of tea) is one of the best Assam teas because of its quality.

Discover here our black Assam teas from India.

Darjeeling

The second oldest British tea growing area in India after Assam is located in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal. Tea cultivation there began in 1841.

Situated between Nepal and Bhutan, Darjeeling black tea is grown at higher altitudes, unlike Assam. The different types of tea from Darjeeling are distinguished according to when they are harvested (up to 5 harvests per year), but also according to their quality.

These Darjeeling black teas, with the same production, have such different characteristics that probably in the end everyone must decide for himself which tea is the best Darjeeling tea in the world for him.

Discover here our Darjeeling black teas from India.

Darjeeling Tea - Organic teas - Gräfenhof Tee GmbH (1)

CEYLON

In the British colony of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), coffee was the main crop until 1869, when a fungus destroyed most of the coffee plants. The coffee plantations were forced to replant and turned to tea production.

Ceylon tea is darker in color and flavor than Darjeeling, but lighter than Assam. It is therefore an excellent compromise (like the Oolong between green and black tea).

It is grown at 3 different altitudes, which makes it so diverse and varied. However, the Ceylon teas grown at high altitudes are considered the best.

In terms of taste, Ceylon tea has hints of citrus or spices.

Discover here our black teas from Ceylon.

Kenyan Teas

It may surprise you to know that Kenya is a producer of black tea.

In fact, Kenya is now the third largest exporter in the world, just behind India and China, the world’s largest producer. Tea, which was first introduced to Kenya in 1903, is now the country’s main export product.

The plants grown in Kenya belong to the Camellia Assamica variety. Far from the endless farms of Asia, tea in Kenya is grown on family farms.

Among the best known varieties are the Kericho, Milima, Marinyn and Kirinyaga.

Milima Kericho

This is a traditional black tea grown in the Kericho region of Kenya and is one of the tastiest black teas. It has a strong astringent flavor, and many people like to pair it with a cup of milk for balance.

Still, this tea has mild notes with a hint of sweetness.

Marinyn

Marinyn, a spicy and full-bodied black tea, is grown in the Kenyan highlands between Mount Kenya and Lake Victoria.

Some of the best growing areas are Kinoro, Kagwe, Rukuriri, Githambo, Imenti and Kiegoi.  

Due to the Rift Valley, which runs north to south in Kenya, the eastern and western sides have different soil types. These in turn give the tea different characteristics.

As you can see, the number of existing black teas is impressive, and no one can say which one is the best of them all. This assessment is left to everyone, because tastes are known to be different.

Black Tea Bags and Loose Tea: the properties and flavors.

Tea Bags vs loose Leaf TeasGräfenhof Tee GmbH

The Taste

The Western palate has certainly become accustomed to the typical strong black tea, which is due to the low quality and lack of variety in the mass production of tea bags. This type of tea is versatile and combines well with sugar, cream, ice cubes (popular in Asia) and sweeteners.

For the beverage industry, the main goal was to satisfy the demand for tea, so mass production was more important than quality for centuries.  

However, with increased consumer education and awareness over the past decade to 20 years, there has been an increased appetite for and demand for high quality, handcrafted, loose-leaf teas. Variety, freshness and flavor have become important differentiators in black tea selection.

Of course, not all black tea tastes the same, with various elements influencing taste. In fact, tea can be seen to have similarities to fine wine.  

Variables that can determine the individual flavor profile of black teas include:

  • Terroir – where the tea was grown and possible proximity to other plants that influence its flavor (e.g. rose bushes or coffee plants)
  • Climate – in which climate it was grown
  • Method – whether it was fertilized naturally or with chemicals 
  • Oxidation method – how long the leaves were allowed to oxidize during processing, what type of heat treatment they received to stop oxidation, and whether the leaves were left whole (orthodox) or cut into smaller pieces (unorthodox) for packaging.

Black Teas: Strong Taste

In general, black teas have a much stronger and more intense flavor than green teas. 

Their color can vary from amber to red to dark brown, and the flavor ranges from salty to sweet, depending on the oxidation time and heating method. 

Black tea tends to be more astringent (tart) and bitter than green tea, but when properly prepared, it should be smooth and flavorful.

The overall flavor profile of black tea is often described with the following characteristics: malty, smoky, pungent, earthy, spicy, nutty, fruity, sweet, metallic, like citrus, caramel, leather, and honey.

The “leaf cutting” industry

Since black tea often has a stronger “tea” flavor and this strength is becoming increasingly popular, a so-called “leaf cutting” industry has developed as a result. 

Here, the leaf, after being crushed and rolled for better oxidation, can be left whole to achieve an authentic flavor. Alternatively, it can be broken or cut to increase the surface area if a stronger cup is to be brewed. This often requires blending with other leaves to maximize flavor and strength while minimizing astringency. 

Chopped leaves were perfect for industrial tea bag production. Whole tea leaves were too large to fit through the machines, so the increasing need for convenience, high popularity and demand, and modern technologies eventually led to the emergence of a new industry. 

Premium Black Tea Organic

Tea has experienced a renaissance in the last ten to 15 years. After decades of popularization and increasing demand, a new wave of educated and observant consumers is transforming the industry. Demand has shifted heavily from packaged teas and cut leaves to authentic tasting teas made from whole leaves. 

At Gräfenhof Tea, we believe that organically grown whole leaf teas offer the best possible and most refined drinking experience. 

Our focus is therefore entirely on the presentation of whole leaf teas. We also want to educate consumers on the difference between whole and cut leaves to highlight the quality of the product in its purest form. 

In addition, we want to show tea lovers and our customers how to transform the enjoyment of tea from a simple (but delicious) break during the work day or at home into a refined and luxurious event where the best characteristics, blends and flavors can be enjoyed, appreciated and discussed. 

However, this does not mean that we deny the convenience of the tea bag! 

Convenience and quality:

Pyramid Tea Bags.

However, this does not mean that we deny the convenience of the tea bag! 

Quite the contrary! 

Convenience when enjoying tea is important. 

We are aware that many of our customers value convenience. To meet this demand, we have developed our own pyramid-shaped tea bags – but with one important difference.

We use only the highest quality whole leaf teas in our tea bags, and never cut leaves or anything else that we don’t also offer in our loose tea products. 

In fact, all of our pyramid tea bags are made from the most popular teas we already carry. Alternatively, we create custom lines at the request of our customers to ensure absolute top quality.

Pyramid Tea Bags - Gräfenhof Tee GmbH

Black Tea: caffeine content

The caffeine content of black tea is higher than that of green tea, but lower than that of coffee. The reason why black tea contains more caffeine than green tea is due to its complete oxidation. 

Namely, the oxidation process removes some amino acids that can prevent the release of caffeine during fermentation. This process also increases the content of antioxidants. In addition, the leaves of black tea are larger, so they can absorb more caffeine. 

However, as with any beverage made from a plant that contains caffeine, there are many factors that can affect the amount of caffeine in your cup of black tea, including how the plant is processed and how the beverage is prepared. 

How much caffeine in black tea

The caffeine content of a tea depends partly on the type of tea, and partly on the brewing time. The longer the tea steeps, the more caffeine it contains.

On average, loose black tea contains 22-28 mg of caffeine per 1 gram of dried tea leaves. This means that a cup of black tea can contain between 14 and 61 mg of caffeine per cup. 

An average cup steeped for 1 to 2 minutes contains 47 mg of caffeine per cup. This means that the caffeine content of black tea is moderate. 

Cup 240 MlCaffeine content
Green Tea24-40 mg
Black Tea14-61 mg
Coffee ( Filter Coffee)95-200 mg
Tea Brewing Teas - How to Brew The perfect Cup Of Tea - Gräfenhof Tee GmbH

Black Tea: Preparation

To prepare the perfect cup of black tea, it is important to know the type of tea leaf you are using. 

To be sure, ask your tea supplier for the specific instructions for the tea you purchased. This is because many black teas have different ideal brewing temperatures and steeping times. 

Below are some general tips for brewing loose leaf black tea:

  • Good quality water – for tea, water is important, so you should use fresh, pure, cold and filtered water. Spring water b.z.w. Mineral water without carbonic acid is ideal.
  • Black teas are usually brewed longer and at warmer temperatures than green teas, i.e. between 90 and 100 degrees Celsius for three to five minutes of brewing time, depending on the variety and personal taste.
  • If you don’t have a kettle with temperature control, boil the water to the boiling point. This should be sufficient for brewing your black tea.
  • If your black tea came with specific brewing recommendations, it’s best to follow them. However, two grams of loose tea per cup is usually sufficient.
  • An important but often neglected detail is to cover the tea while it steeps. This keeps the heat in the cup or pot.
  • Do not let your tea steep too long! After all, the longer it steeps, the more bitter and astringent it tastes. Taste your tea after the recommended steep time to see if you might want it stronger.
  • High quality black teas can be steeped up to three times.
  • The culture of black teas has virtually transformed the way we consume it into a “milk and sugar” tea. In fact, black teas go perfectly with milk and sugar. However, if you have purchased a higher quality black tea, you should try drinking it neat. It has a very unique and pleasant taste.

Final Words

We hope this articles provided all the necessary information you were looking for about Black Teas.

Sources

About.com – Coffee and Tea: How Much Caffeine Is In Coffee, Tea, Cola and Other Drinks? http://coffeetea.about.com/od/caffeinehealth/a/

How-Much-Caffeine-Is-In-Coffee-Tea-Cola-And-Other-Drinks.htm Mayo Clinic – Nutrition and Healthy Eating: Caffeine Content for Coffee, Tea, Soda and More http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/caffeine/AN01211

Tea and Tea Products: Chemistry and Health-Promoting Properties bz Chi- tang ho, Jen-kun lin and Fereidoon Shahidi, 2008

The art and craft of tea : an enthusiast’s guide to selecting, brewing, and serving exquisite tea by Uhl & Joseph Wesley, 2016 The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by Mary Louw Heiss and Robert J. Heiss, 2007

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