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Black Tea

*What is Black Tea?*

Harmutty Assam

Black teas are the world’s most popular teas. The three traditional countries of origin for black teas are: China, India and Sri Lanka.

Black teas are typically categorized by their country of origin, next by region of origin and also by elevation. Descriptors are also added for some teas such as teas from China.

Estate Black Teas or single origin teas can come from a single plantation or by several farmers from an area and are processed together.

Blended teas are not from a single origin. Blended teas come from multiple sources. They allow the seller to create consistent taste, color and aroma by adjusting to account for variations in leaves during the different seasons.

Black Teas from China

  • Two of the most well-known teas of China are Yunnan and Keemun
  • Chinese Black Congou was the first tea introduced to Europeans. The name Congou means time and effort, well-worked.

Black Teas from India

  • India didn’t start drinking tea until after the British introduced it to them in the 1800’s. The British were looking to cultivate tea in India. They discovered that India had it’s own tea plant indigenous to Assam-Camellia sinensis assamica. Tea was first planted in Darjeeling in the mid 1800’s using tea seed from China (Camellia sinensis sinensis).

India has 3 major growing regions

  • Assam — This is the largest black tea producing region in the world.
  • Darjeeling — Darjeelings are known for their woodsy and nutty aroma. Darjeeling teas are often called the Champagne of Teas. During the growing season, the tea is picked every 4-8 days. All the plucking is done by hand. Tea grown here is of the Chinese (Camellia sinensis ) type. The Chinese type has a smaller leaf and is jagged.
    The reason why there are green leaves in Darjeeling teas is because of the hard wither on the leaf. The moisture is already gone from the leaf before it starts to wither. It’s not able to oxidize because there is no moisture in the leaf, therefore it doesn’t turn black.
  • Nilgiri — These teas are grown at high elevation, where there is a light mist and rain every day. The liquors of the tea are thinner because of higher elevation of 6000 ft. Nilgiri teas make excellent iced tea. Try Burnside and Tungmalay.

Teas from Sri Lanka

Ceylon Gold

Up until 1972, Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon. You might have heard of Ceylon teas. Sri Lanka has a geographical advantage — it’s an island with micro-climate conditions. They grow tea all year round except in the monsoon season.

Their teas are 100% hand plucked.

There are 3 distinct elevations and these elevations help determine the flavor of the tea:

  • High Grown — 4000 ft. +
    (Dimbulla, Nuwara Eliya, Uva) — the higher the elevation, the more mellow the tea.
  • Mid Grown — 2000-4000 ft
    (Kandy, Uda)
  • Low Grown — 1-2000 ft.
    (Ratnapura, Galle)

We carry two Ceylon teas, Ceylon and Ceylon Gold.

There are two methods for processing black tea: the orthodox method and the unorthodox method.

Orthodox method

British Style Orthodox Production

This method was developed originally in China and later adapted by the British.

  • Plucking — most black teas are plucked by hand
  • Withering — leaves are spread on screens over a long narrow trough. Fans push the air under the leaves, so that the moisture in the leaves are reduced.
  • Rolling/crushing — machines mimic the hand motions of rolling and crushing the leaves to break the cell walls releasing enzymes to promote oxidation. The leaves are shaped by the rollers.
  • Oxidation/Fermentation — leaves are placed in trays, allowed to oxidize for 6-8 hours, this turns the leaves black.
  • Firing — when the leaves are fully oxidized, they are fired which stops the process. This prevents molding.
  • Grading — leaves are sorted through a sieve, can be done by hand or machine

Unorthodox method

Irish Breakfast

This method was developed to reduce time and labor and to pack more tea in bulk. The most common unorthodox method is the CTC. It uses a machine called a rotorvane to crush and macerate the leaves before oxidation.

Unorthodox Tea

  • CTC stands for crush, tear, curl. This method was developed during World War II to increase the weight of the tea that could be packed into a sack or chest. This method is different from the orthodox method in one way. Instead of rolling the leaves by hand or machine, the leaves are fed through rollers which crush and macerate and roll the leaves into tiny balls. CTC teas resemble coffee granules. This method is perfect for tea bags because it allows the tea to steep very quickly as the tea leaves are tiny pieces and infuse very fast.

CTC teas differ from orthodox teas in several ways:

  • The leaves are curled and vary in size — like ground coffee
  • These teas are less complex, more straight forward in aroma
  • More full bodied, take well to milk/sugar
  • Have more color

We carry one CTC tea — Irish Breakfast.

To learn more about black and other teas, sign up for one of our classes.