From English Breakfast to Earl Grey, from iced tea to milk tea – there is no way you have never tried black tea before. You may even instantly think of black tea when you hear the word “tea.” Thanks to its bold flavor and long shelf life, black tea is regarded as one of the most famous teas in the world. It is now grown in multiple parts of the world – from Asia to Europe – helping black tea to become even more famous!
You may have seen it, tasted it, or even fallen in love with it - but what exactly is black tea? What is the difference between black tea and green tea? Is black tea good for our health?
The history of black tea
We may know this type of tea by the name “black tea” because of its dark color, but it’s actually not called black tea in its birthplace!
Black tea, also known as “red tea (红茶)” in China, is a relatively new type of tea. And just like other types of tea, the history of black tea began in China, where it was first processed from Camellia sinensis leaves. Black tea was discovered in China in the mid-17th century, much later than green tea, whose history started almost 5000 years ago. Until the discovery of black tea, green and oolong teas were the only teas consumed in China.
It is believed that black tea was discovered by accident, just like how tea was discovered in the first place. During the wartime, an army from Jiangxi entered the Fujian province, where they decided to spend the night at a nearby tea factory. This made the tea factory unable to continue their tea production process, causing the tea leaves to oxidize for longer than they should be and creating darker tea leaves. The tea producers were desperate to save the tea, so they decided to smoke the dark tea leaves over pinewood, giving birth to Lapsang Souchong, one of the very first black teas we know.
When the Dutch and British traders came to China, they saw this “black tea” as a valuable commodity – good health benefits, not easily spoiled (due to the long oxidation process), and its flavor improves with age. They competed for this tea as their people back home loved it. At first, the British monopolized the market, but soon the Dutch took over. The British had to find other ways to satisfy their black tea cravings, turned to their other colony – India – and found Camellia sinensis var. assamica, giving birth to Assam Tea.
Nowadays, black tea is the most famous tea in the market. 90% of all tea sold in the United States is black tea, and it is grown in many parts of the world – from China to England, India to Africa. No wonder we can find it everywhere!
What does black tea taste like?
Deep is a flavor profile you would associate with black tea. Black tea tastes deeper and stronger than green tea or oolong tea because of its long oxidation process. While different plantation sites may create different flavors of black tea – malty, smoky, earthy, spicy, citrusy, sweet, fruity – there is one thing all black teas have in common – it tastes strong, bold, and deep.
Types of black tea
Black tea is mainly cultivated in China and South Asia (India & Sri Lanka). You may have heard of some types of black tea before – Assam, Darjeeling, or Ceylon. But there are many types of black tea you may have never heard of!
Indian Black Tea
- Assam Tea
Assam tea is a special type of black tea coming from the Indian variant of Camellia sinensis var. assamica, which has larger leaves than the original Camellia sinensis plant. Assam tea tastes robust, full-bodied, and malty, perfect for making milky teas.
- Darjeeling Tea
Still from India, but coming from a different plant. Darjeeling tea is made from Camellia sinensis var. sinensis. It has a smooth and bright flavor, accompanied by muscatel and floral notes.
Sri Lankan Black Tea
Still in South Asia, but moving a bit to the east. Ceylon tea originates from Sri Lanka, where it is grown in many parts of the country. The flavor can vary depending on the origin, but they generally taste light yet bold, crisp, often accompanied by floral notes.
Chinese Black Tea
- Lapsang Souchong Tea
Let’s move north to China! Lapsang Souchong originates from the Wuyi region in Fujian province – this is the tea considered as the origin of all black teas. It is known for its smoky flavor, thanks to the pine needles used to smoke it.
- Dianhong Tea (also known as Yunnan Red Tea)
The name says it – Dianhong tea or Yunnan red tea originates from Yunnan province, China. This tea is considered a high-end tea due to its “golden tips,” making it look more luxurious than its black tea counterparts. Dianhong tea or Yunnan red tea is made from the Chinese variant of Camellia sinensis var. assamica.
- Keemun/Qimen Tea
Still from China, Keemun/Qimen tea originates from Anhui province. There are different types of Keemun tea, which creates a wide array of flavors – floral, fruity, smokey, malty. Despite the variety, this tea generally has a bright, wine-like color.
Kenyan Black Tea
Do you know that Kenya is currently the third-largest tea producer globally after China and India? Kenyan black tea generally tastes robust and full-bodied, yet spicy and citrusy.
Green vs. Black Tea: What are the differences?
Let’s start with the similarity – both green and black tea are from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. However, they are processed differently, creating different flavors and caffeine contents. Here are the differences between green and black tea:
The processing method is where the big difference starts. Green tea is not oxidized at all, while black tea is fully oxidized. So if we think about this as a spectrum, green tea and black tea lie on opposing sides of the oxidation spectrum.
After withering, black tea is directly rolled without stopping the oxidation process first. It is then left in the open air for more oxidation. In contrast, green tea is pan-fried after withering to stop the oxidation process. This is what creates the massive difference in oxidation between the two.
The different oxidation levels create different flavors for black and green tea. Higher oxidation for black tea means bolder, stronger flavor, while zero oxidation for green tea means lighter, grassier flavor.
- Caffeine content
Because of the processing too, green tea and black tea have different caffeine contents. Green tea has 35-45 milligrams of caffeine per 8oz (~240mL) serving, while black tea has a higher caffeine content with 40-70 milligrams per 8oz serving. This number may seem high, but it is still lower than coffee, with 95-200 milligrams of caffeine per 8oz serving!
The caffeine content of black tea
Black tea has one of the highest caffeine contents of all teas – it is only surpassed by pu-erh tea because of the even longer oxidation process. An 8oz (~240mL) serving of black tea contains 40-70 milligrams of caffeine, while the same serving of coffee contains 95-200 milligrams of caffeine. So yes, black tea has a lower caffeine content than coffee, but it is still enough to disturb your sleep cycle. Try not to drink black tea too late at night!
Health benefits of black tea
Black tea is one of the most studied teas for its health benefits. Numerous researchers from all over the world have been researching the health benefits of black tea, discovering the abundance of positive effects it has on our bodies! Here are the health benefits of black tea:
- Improving focus
Since black tea contains high caffeine (40-70 milligrams per 8oz/240mL serving), it may improve our alertness and focus. However, you do not need to worry about the jittery feeling because black tea also relaxes you! Black tea contains caffeine and an amino acid called L-theanine that can improve focus and create a sense of relaxation at the same time. So, say goodbye to your sweetened energy drink and grab a cup of black tea instead!
- Lowering the risk of chronic disease
Thanks to the antioxidants in black tea (yay!), drinking black tea may give you significant health benefits: removing free radicals and decreasing cell damage in your body. These can help lower the risk of chronic diseases.
- Reducing the risk of cancer
Still on the topic of antioxidants, the polyphenols (one type of antioxidants) in black tea can help prevent cancer cell survival.
- Reducing blood pressure
Say goodbye to high blood pressure! Drinking black tea regularly may help decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
- Protecting against diabetes
Back to antioxidants, these healthy compounds present in black tea can protect us against diabetes. This is because the antioxidative and anti-inflammatory effects of antioxidants can be helpful for people with diabetes.
- Improving gut health
Black tea contains polyphenols (antioxidants again!) that may help promote the growth of good bacteria and inhibit the growth of bad bacteria in our gut. It also contains antimicrobial properties that can kill off harmful substances in our gut and increase our gut’s immunity by helping repair the lining of the digestive tract.
- Lowering blood sugar levels
Insulin is a hormone that is secreted when you consume sugar, and unsweetened black tea can help improve the use of insulin and reduce blood sugar.
- Boosting heart health
Another type of antioxidant – flavonoids – is at play here. Studies have found that flavonoids may reduce many risk factors for heart disease, which means drinking black tea regularly may help with your heart health.
The best way to consume black tea
Just like (almost) everything in life, you have choices in enjoying your cup of black tea. There are two ways to enjoy your favorite cup of black tea: the cup method and the gaiwan method. Each one of them is the best way – it just depends on your situation and time.
- Cup method
If you are in a rush or just want to drink your black tea easily, you can use the cup method.
First, preheat your teacup with hot water, and then discard the water.
Brew 2 teaspoons (2g) of tea with 8.8oz (250ml) hot water (210°F/ 100°C). Brew it for 3-5 minutes.
There you go. Your black tea is ready!
- Gaiwan method
In the mood of going traditional? Try the gaiwan method!
Gaiwan – which literally means “lid and bowl” in Chinese – is a traditional Chinese tea brewing vessel that can elevate your Chinese tea drinking experience.
To get your cup of black tea using the gaiwan method, you need to first preheat your gaiwan by pouring hot water into it, and then discard.
Put 4 grams of black tea in the gaiwan and pour some hot water into it, then discard the water. This process is known as “awakening the tea,” or opening up the tea leaves. You can discard the water into your teacup to preheat it.
Pour hot water (210°F/ 100°C) into the gaiwan to brew your tea. For the first steep, you can do it for 15 seconds.
Serve your tea using a teacup (4oz/120mL size). You should not drink your tea directly from the gaiwan. Now your traditional black tea is ready!
(You can steep your black tea six times. Each additional one will take a longer time to steep. From the first steep to the sixth steep, we encourage you to take 15s, 25s, 40s, 60s, 80s, 100s)
Where to buy black tea
Since there are different types and origins of black tea, you should find authentic sellers to ensure that you get the taste and flavor you want.
BornTea offers authentic and sustainable Dianhong (滇红) Black Tea, straight from our farmland in Feng Qing, Yunnan Province. Our Dianhong Black Tea is special, as Dianhong Black Tea itself is considered a relatively high-end gourmet black tea. Dianhong black tea leaves look more luxurious, with the “golden tips” present in the tea. You will get a brassy golden orange tea with a gentle earthy aroma and no astringency when you brew the tea. It is sweet, thin, but at the same time deep and smooth. Get your first (or n-th!) cup of Dianhong Black Tea from BornTea here.