Black tea is beloved by societies across the globe from the British to the Chinese. This deliciously strong beverage has a rich history and stunning flavor that entices taste buds. Learn more about black tea including its health benefits and how it's made with this handy guide.
Looking for earthy, robust flavors in your tea? Check out our collection of the best black teas right here.
Black tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant known more commonly as the tea plant. The tea plant is also used to produce other true teas, which include white tea, green tea, oolong tea, and pu-erh tea. These tea plants grow in various climates and are cultivated from sea level to the high mountains of the Himalayas.
There are two main species of tea plant used to make black tea. The first is the C. sinensis var. sinensis and the second is known as C. sinensis var. assamica. The latter is used almost exclusively for making black tea, although recently some cultivators have used the leaves to make green and whites teas.
Black tea is an oxidized tea meaning it undergoes a chemical reaction that turns the green leaves to black or deep brown. The oxidation also affects the flavor and aroma of the tea. Tea leaves are harvested by hand from the tea plants and placed in large bamboo baskets. The leaves are then spread on large tarps or mats and are withered to reduce the moisture content. Some manufacturers use large fans to increase the speed of the withering process.
The leaves are then processed using the CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) method or the orthodox method. CTC is used mainly on low and medium quality leaves. Most leaves that are processed using CTC will end up in black tea bags since the method produces broken leaves, dust, and fannings. The CTC method is done entirely with machinery, which makes the process quicker.
The orthodox method can be done using machines or by hand. This method is typically used for higher quality leaves and more expensive teas. The leaves that undergo the orthodox method during processing are generally used to make loose leaf teas and tea cakes.
The leaves then undergo a process of oxidation. During oxidation, enzymes in the tea leaves react with oxygen and gradually turn the leaf a dark black color. This process is what makes different teas even though the same leaves are used. Green tea is not allowed to oxidize at all while oolong tea is partially oxidized. Black tea is fully oxidized and results in a rich flavor that is earthy and toasted. Once the leaves reach the predetermined oxidation level, they are dried to prevent further oxidation. In general, black tea leaves are pan-fired or roasted. The leaves are then graded and packaged for sale.
Black tea has long been used in traditional medicine to cure ailments. In western society, tea is commonly used to treat the common cold and flu. As its popularity grows, so does the medical research surrounding its potential health benefits. Studies show that drinking black tea may help protect heart health (1). Anti-inflammatory properties help to reduce inflammation in arteries and blood vessels thus lowering high blood pressure. Black tea consumption may also lower risk of stroke and high cholesterol levels (2). Most studies show that the prevention of cardiovascular disease by tea is minor if still significant.
Black tea may also play a minor role in cancer prevention. Black tea contains antioxidants known as polyphenols that may help lower the risk of certain types of cancer including prostate cancer and ovarian cancer (3). One meta-analysis showed that these polyphenols could induce the death of cancer cells, thus preventing its spread.
It's important to note that the reduced risk of cancer from drinking tea has not been established by all medical studies. Some show only minor effects while other studies have had more dramatic effects. Much of this research has been conducted on animals or cells in the lab and there are no human trials confirming the results. More research is needed to confirm these health benefits of black tea.
Black tea contains high amounts of caffeine, which may help improve weight loss results. The caffeine content of black tea is roughly half the amount you'd find in a standard cup of coffee. Black tea is a prebiotic that helps streamline digestion. This enables the body to burn fat more efficiently. Caffeine also boosts energy, which can help you power through a workout.
In addition, black tea contains an amino acid known as l-theanine. This amino acid inhibits the absorption of caffeine, resulting in a longer-lasting energy boost without the spikes and falls associated with coffee.
Black tea intake can also help reduce your daily calories when you swap it in for sugary drinks. Like all teas, black tea is calorie-free—just make sure not to add extra sugar or sweeteners. Replace sodas and juices with a hot cup of black tea or iced tea to save a few calories throughout the day.
Black teas are mainly cultivated in China and India. The most famous black teas hail from India although Sri Lanka makes the famous Ceylon tea and Africa also produces certain varieties. Here are some of our favorite black teas:
Darjeeling black tea is cultivated largely in West Bengal in India. The tea features a thin body with notes of fruit and floral flavors. What makes Darjeeling unique is its distinctive muscatel flavor. Some Darjeeling teas also have a mixture of green and oolong tea leaves.
Assam black tea is grown in the Assam region of India. The plants grow in the foothills of the Himalayas and along the Deccan plateau. This tea boasts a malty flavor with a rich body. It offers a brisk finish and refreshing aroma and is frequently used in black tea blends and flavored teas.
Lapsang Souchong is one of the most unique black tea varieties on the market. This tea hails from China where it is harvested and processed by hand. It is known popularly as the "whiskey of black teas". The black tea leaves are fired over open pine fires to create a delightfully smoky flavor. This tea has notes of tobacco and roasted flavors that offer a pleasant warming sensation.
Keemun is a Chinese tea that varies greatly from Lapsang Souchong. This black tea has a light body and features fruity notes. It's often described as tasting similar to unsweetened chocolate. Some keemun varieties have a scent that is reminiscent of fresh orchids.
One of the most popular black teas is known as Earl Grey. This tea infuses black tea leaves with bergamot orange. Some varieties include dried bergamot rinds in the loose leaf tea while others simply scent or infuse the leaves using bergamot oils. Earl Grey features a rich chocolaty flavor that is accented by citrusy notes.
Black tea leaves are used in India to make masala chai. Chai is a blend of spices that typically includes cloves, peppercorns, ginger, cinnamon, and cardamom. Some blends use other spices including anise. The black tea leaves add a sharp flavor to the piquant flavor of the spices. In India, it's typically consumed with the addition of buffalo milk for a creamy flavor and full body.
Another favorite is English breakfast tea. This tea is generally consumed with a dash of milk to add a creamy texture to the robust flavor of black tea leaves. These breakfast teas feature high amounts of caffeine and strong earthy notes.
Nothing tastes better than a delicious steaming cup of tea. Black tea offers dozens of different flavors from fruity and spicy to robust and smoky. Discover a new black tea flavor with some of our favorites from this handy guide. You’re sure to find a black tea that tickles your fancy and inspires your taste.