Black Teas are fully fermented teas; the Chinese call them red teas. Black teas are used classic English tea blends, Indian chai teas and American sweet teas. Most black teas come from Africa, India and Sri Lanka, with some lighter black teas coming from China.
Black Leaf Teas
China is the birthplace of tea, discovered over 5,000 years ago. China is the second largest producer of teas in the world, but most importantly benefits from the greatest diversity of types and flavours of tea. Unfortunately, many of the teas have high levels of chemical contamination from pollutants and overuse of agrochemicals. Sometimes these teas are called "red teas".
India is the leading producer of tea in the world. There are three main tea-growing regions in India, with Assam the key region, and it is these regions that determine the taste of the teas:
- Assam, with Camellia assamica plants
- Darjeeling, with Camellia sinensis plants
- Nilgiri, with Camellia assamica plants
Smaller tea growing areas also flourish in the south of India, e.g. Annamalai.
Sri Lankan (Ceylon) Teas
Ceylon Teas come from Sri Lanka. Ceylon teas are delicate and fragrant teas, grown at high altitude. Ceylon are high quality teas. There is no real winter in Sri Lanka, which means the tea plucking season is all year round, with less tip from new spring growth than for Darjeeling, for example. Only 2% of Sri Lankan tea is Orange Pekoe (OP) teas, with 80% BOP and BOPF. Sri Lankan small leaf teas are smaller than the equivalent teas from Assam, but cleaner, neater and less dusty and have a lower tannin content.
Other Tea Areas
Processing Black Teas
How Chinese Black Teas are Made
China produces black teas, predominantly in the south in Anhui and Fujian Provinces. The Chinese often call them "red teas", because of the copper-red colour of their infusion. Generally, black teas are made from more mature tea leaves.
The process is:
- Withering: is carried out on the ground or bamboo racks for 5 - 6 hours, to enable them to soften and lose 60% of their moisture. The leaves must be stirred regularly during withering. During mechanical withering, the plucked tea leaves are placed on sieves in brick containers for 4 hours; these containers are heated by wood fires which gives them a slightly smoky quality.
- Rolling: when softened, the withered leaves are rolled to break down the cell structure and release the oxidase enzymes that cause fermentation.
- Oxidation: oxidation takes between 8 - 12 hours. The tea leaves are spread on the ground and covered with large wet cloths to stimulate the chemical reaction at a temperature of about 22oC (72oF). Because oxidation arises in milder conditions than for Indian teas, Chinese black teas have an earthy aroma and a burnt, sweet taste.
- Drying: any residual moisture is driven out at this stage, usually by passing the leaves along conveyor belts through which warm air is blown from a wood-heated machine.
- Sorting and Sifting: the processed black tea leaves are sorted and sifted either manually or mechanically into different grades (sorting) and to remove twigs, dust and other unwanted objects (sifting).
- Firing: sometimes an additional firing stage is added to lower the moisture content even further.
- Dowell, P., Bailey, A. (1980) The Book of Ingredients, Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 0718119150.