There is a lot of enjoyment to get from Black Teas and a whole lot to know and appreciate…and yes It’s true…Black Teas are Flavorful AND Healthy…
Most of us grow up with at least some exposure to tea…some much more than others. Like many other things, since we have seen tea, and likely consumed tea at some point, we think we understand tea…that we know all about it…everything we need to know.
Actually, not quite. In fact, not even close. Black teas are a great example to start with. Black teas are, well, Black Tea right? Yes, true enough however what we don’t realize when we casually refer to Black Tea is that we are referring to a category of tea that has a wide range of variety which creates diverse characteristics in the tea for us to discover, enjoy and benefit from.
So just what then is the differences in Black Teas? OK so to understand the differences in Black Teas, we start with what Black Tea actually is…
To understand tea and black tea in particular, we begin with oxidation. With tea, oxidation is a natural process that begins with the plucking of the tea leaf. We have all observed oxidation first-hand when eating an apple. We take a bite and set the apple on the table for a few moments while we type a few more words, read a little more, take a sip of our tea or whatever it is we are doing while we are enjoying the apple. By the time we reach for the apple for another bite, we notice the broken edges are already turning brown…ah-ha, oxidation.
During oxidation chemical changes occur within the tea leaf that alter the characteristics of the leaf material ultimately providing the ingredients we steep into our cup. In the tea biz, we say that Oxidation Defines Black Tea. Yes, defines it, but does not necessarily describe it, its color, aroma, taste or flavor.
You see the definition of Black Tea is tea that is Fully Oxidized. So that means that Black Tea is then any tea that is Fully Oxidized. That means regardless of where the tea came from or what other things were done during or after the processing of the tea leaves, as long as the leaves have been Fully Oxidized, they then are Black Tea.
So now just imagine that we have tealeaves that have been harvested in say India, Nepal, China or Kenya. Suppose they were harvested in the mountains a mile high, or in a humid jungle environment…In thin mountain soil or rich volcanic river valley soil.
Now consider the processing of the leaves, the techniques developed by Tea Masters over decades, generations and maybe in some cases over centuries…hummm now you are starting to get the idea.
It is the variation in the leaf material, heavily dependent on the specific conditions they were grown in, the terroir combined with cultural variation in tea processing innovation that yields us the range of variety we experience from unique growing regions around the world. This is true of all teas not only of Black Teas.
With Black Teas we categorize them into classifications of Single Origin Teas, Estate Teas, Blended Teas and True Artisan Teas. These classifications tell us more about the tea and begin to give us insight into the story of each tea.
Throughout tea history man has learned how to take tea ingredients, the organic compounds Mother Nature creates by combining the energy of the sun with the ingredients from the environment and the DNA of the tea plant, and to manipulate them turning them into the leaves we steep into our marvelous tea.
This transformation comes down to managing the chemical changes in the tea plant that normally occur during oxidation. Creating tea however is very far from normal. By managing the leaves from growing in the garden to your cup the skilled tea processor can influence the briskness, strength, thickness, aroma, taste and flavor of your black teas.
The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, continues to receive more and more validation of its health benefits that have now been proven by dozens of studies over decades. From the unoxidized whites and greens to the fully oxidized blacks with the oolong and dark teas in-between Camellia sinensis supports our natural systems and is good for man.
A cup of black tea is no simple matter indeed. Controlling the growth of the tea, the harvesting, and the processing can yield endless combinations, which becomes the intrigue that compels to explore more black tea…
As tea drinkers, we then have the privilege of exploring the Black Teas of the world, appreciating the uniqueness created by the Tea Masters of the famous growing regions, and
Yes, the differences between the high mountain and the low-grown teas, the hand-crafted and the machine processed teas, the nuances created by skilled craftsmen await us. As you explore you will find delicate Black Teas that produce golden cups and robust Black Teas that produce deep reds and browns. The dramatic difference in the broth color exemplifies the range of cup characteristics we will encounter the range of available Black Teas.
So with Black Teas we will find glorious variety and will be treated to a plethora of health benefits…As far as which is the Best Black Tea…that decision becomes personal…and not so easy.
Enjoy the challenge, and the journey finding your favorite…And to think…some people think Black Tea is JUST Black Tea…