Ultimate Guide to Black Tea

Types of black tea
Diana L

What is Black Tea?

In 2019, Americans consumed more than 3.8 billion gallons of tea with about 84% of that being black tea. 

Unlike oolong, white and green tea, black tea leaves are allowed to fully oxidize which means the leaves are left exposed to the air to dry. During this drying process, the leaves darken to a brown or black color and develop the flavor, aroma, and strength of black tea. Tea leaves that do not go through the oxidation process remain green.

Black tea is known for its strong flavors, dark amber color, robust texture, smoky aroma with a distinct malty flavor, and astringent aftertaste. The caffeine level in black tea is also higher than some other tea varieties but still contains much less than coffee. To mellow the taste, black tea drinkers often consume it with milk, lemon, or sweetened with honey or sugar.

types of black tea

Most Popular Varieties of Black Tea

While black teas originate from the Camellia sinensis plant, the characteristics of the tea vary depending on where the plant was grown. 

Assam Black Tea

Assam is a region in northeastern India at low elevation along the Brahmaputra River that produces big leaf tea. Often attributed to the warm, wet climate in which it is grown, Assam black tea is malty, strong-bodied, and full of flavor.

Assam tea is a perfect breakfast tea with its slightly higher caffeine content. Initial sips may display astringent or tannic characteristics, but the roasted malt and creaminess produce a smooth, creamy finish.

Assam tea is also often used as a base for chai. Masala chai is traditionally a blend of whole Assam tea leaves with spices, such as cinnamon, ginger, clove, anise, coriander, and cardamom. 

Ceylon Black Tea

In the late 1800s, tea was planted in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) to replace a waning coffee industry. The British were importing vast amounts of Assam seeds to the island and Ceylon emerged as the world's leading tea exporter by 1965. Of all tea produced in Sri Lanka, Ceylon is more popular than its green and white teas.

Ceylon tea is full-bodied with citrusy flavor, and subtle notes of chocolate. Often blended as a breakfast tea, it goes well with milk and sugar. It is also the most popular for making iced tea. 

Chai

Chai is a blend of tea with sweet and warming spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and ginger. But chai isn't always referring to black tea. Chai can also be found as a green or white tea blend. It is often prepared as a latte with milk and sugar.

Darjeeling Black Tea

Darjeeling black tea comes exclusively from a small region nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, as it is unable to grow anywhere else in the world. The tea grows slowly at this higher elevation and compared to other regions, there is not an abundance of Darjeeling produced making it one of the world's most expensive teas, often referred to as the "champagne of tea".

Darjeeling tea is known for its floral and muscatel flavor. Some enjoy it with honey, but it is best served without milk or sugar added.

Darjeeling teas are divided into four flushes: 

  • First Flush: February to May
  • Second Flush: May to June
  • Monsoon: July to September
  • Autumn: October to November

The first flush Darjeeling is revered as it provides the freshest and fragrant teas being the first pluckings of the season. Although many black tea connoisseurs still prefer the flavors of the second flush.

Earl Grey

Earl Grey teas are considered flavored teas as it is either an Assam or Darjeeling tea that has been infused with bergamot oil. The bergamot citrus from southern Italy creates a fusion of orange and lemon flavor. Earl Grey is also often blended with vanilla, adding some warmth and sweetness to the citrus. It is a popular black tea blend around the world.

Irish Breakfast Tea

This black tea is a blend of several black teas, most often Assam and Ceylon tea. It is one of the most popular blended black teas and commonly enjoyed with milk, sugar, or even honey. 

English Breakfast tea is also a blend of Assam and Ceylon, however, English breakfast teas blend in more of the stronger Ceylon tea, while Irish breakfast tea has a stronger Assam component, creating a more robust, malty flavor and reddish color.

Lapsang Souchong

This black tea from Fujian province is produced from the larger, less flavorful leaves that are plucked lower on the plant. Unlike some other black tea that is fully oxidized in the sun, Lapsang Souchong leaves are dried over an open fire, typically pinewood, creating a smoky flavor. Some historians claim that Lapsang Souchong is the first fully oxidized teas produced. It also creates a unique breakfast tea when blended with Earl Gray.

Yunnan

Yunnan is a chinese tea originating from the province in China. Some Yunnan black teas are partially fermented, meaning that they fall between black tea and pu-erh. Yunnan flavors are typically chocolaty, dark, and malty, with notes of spice or sweetness. Chocolate lovers tend to love Yunnan tea.

pouring a type of black tea in a cup

How To Enjoy Black Tea 

Black tea is a very versatile tea that can be enjoyed as hot or iced tea year-round. There are no rules with tea, but typically full-bodied black tea pairs well with dairy: milk, cream or even sweetened condensed milk. But many prefer their black tea plain with maybe a little sugar and lemon. 

Health Benefits of Black Tea

The antioxidants and polyphenols in black tea have shown to provide a number of health benefits, making it a very good choice. Some of the health benefits include:

  • Lowering the risk of heart disease
  • Preventing the formation of potential carcinogens and therefore may help prevent various cancers
  • Boosting your immune system's response to fight viruses such as the flu
  • Preventing oral bacteria that cause tooth decay, and bad breath
  • Aiding in digestion and decreasing intestinal activity such as diarrhea.
  • Nourishing your skin with vitamins along with providing essential minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and zinc. The chemical compounds in black tea may help prevent skin breakouts and reduce the signs of premature aging. Try placing black tea bags on your eyes may help reduce puffiness and dark circles.
  • Promoting blood flow in the brain which helps improve mental focus and concentration without over-stimulating the heart and causing other side effects as shown by some other highly caffeinated drinks.
  • Provides a smoother and more continuous energy boost compared to the jarring effect that can be experienced with coffee or soda.

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