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Black Tea - General Info and Health Benefits

Black Tea - General Info and Health Benefits

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Shop for black teas.

Description

Teas are made from the tea plant (Camellia Sinensis) or one of its varietals, cultivars, or clonals. Black tea is made of leaves harvested from this plant. The leaves have undergone a certain style of processing afterwards. There is a wide variety of resulting black teas, due in part to variations in that processing and in part due to terroir (location where grown, including elevation, and time of year when harvested). Black tea is also referred to as a fully oxidized tea, that is, one where the leaves have undergone oxidation (the natural chemical process that occurs after harvest) to the fullest extent possible.

In Asian countries, this type of tea is called “red tea” since the liquid steeped from the leaves is a typically rich ruby color. In Western countries, it is known as “black tea” based on the color of the processed leaves.

Harvesting and Production

Tea leaves are harvested either by hand or machine, the choice being determined largely by the version of black tea being produced. There are two basic methods of processing, also. One is called “orthodox” and tends to be by hand and keeps the leaves mostly intact. The other is CTC (“crush, tear, curl”) where the leaves are processed by machine and end up in small bits that steep up faster but can be more bitter.

Processing involves the full gamut of the tea maker’s art. The leaves are graded and sorted, then withered, making them pliable (less moisture renders the leaves limp). Next comes the rolling where oils in the leaves are released and the cell walls are broken down. They are fully oxidized, turning them almost black. Finally, they are dried in ovens or pan-fired.

Preparation Techniques

Steeping an orthodox style black tea and a CTC style black tea varies slightly. The former tends to need a little more time to steep and the latter can steep up strong fairly fast. Most tea makers recommend boiling water, but a few say to use slightly cooler water (190-200° F). Steeping times vary from 2 minutes to as long as 7 minutes.

A general rule of thumb for black teas:

  • To drink straight: 1 heaping teaspoon of tea leaves for 8 ounces of water, heat the water to 190-200° F, steep for 2-3 minutes. For a stronger flavor, use hotter water and steep a little longer, or you can use more tea leaves.
  • To drink with milk, lemon, or other sweeteners: 1 heaping teaspoon of tea leaves for 8 ounces of water, heat the water to a boil (212° F), steep for 5 minutes or more. For a stronger flavor, use more tea leaves.
  • For iced tea: 2-3 heaping teaspoons of tea leaves for 8 ounces of water, heat the water to a boil (212° F), steep for 5 minutes or more. For a stronger flavor, use more tea leaves. Pour the hot tea over ice or add cold water to thin it out to the desired consistency and then put in the refrigerator.

Black teas can be stored for a year or more. Keep them away from air, light, and moisture.

Specific Teas

Chinese black teas come from several provinces:

  • Anhui Province — home of Keemun (Qimen) black tea, considered one of the 10 most famous Chinese teas. This includes: Keemun Hao Ya (祁門毫芽) – BEST GRADES: A is the better and B slightly lower, both often showing silver tips among the fine buds; Keemun Congou (or Gongfu) (祁門功夫) – a version processed with care and skill, producing whole unbroken leaves shaped in thin, tight strips; Keemun Mao Feng (Fur Peak) (祁門毛峰) – slightly twisted buds that produce a smoother, different taste even after steeped for a longer time than usual (some let it go as long as 7 minutes), bringing out more variety in the flavor; and Keemun Xin Ya (祁門新芽) – made from early buds and less prone to be bitter than the others. Some Keemun also comes from Hubei, Hunan, and Jiangsu Provinces.
  • Fujian Province — coastal mountains provide a perfect growing environment for tea; home of Lapsang Souchong, a very different black tea where the final drying phase of the leaf processing is done over pine fires that imparts a smoky quality to the tea.
  • Guangdong Province — home of Lichee Congou and Rose Congou. Both are orthodox style black teas with flavoring added (lichee and rose petals).
  • Hubei Province — home of North China Congou (also called Keemun). Of all the Chinese black teas the ones most familiar to the West are commonly called ‘congou teas.’ The two principal divisions are north China congou and south China congou. The north China congous – from the provinces of Kiangsu, Anhui and Hunan were all typical English breakfast style teas. The most famous of these congous are the keemuns.
  • Hunan Province — home of North China congou (also called Keemun). Of all the Chinese black teas the ones most familiar to the West are commonly called ‘congou teas.’ The two principal divisions are north China congou and south China congou. The north China congous – from the provinces of Kiangsu, Anhui and Hunan were all typical English breakfast style teas. The most famous of these congous are the keemuns.
  • Jiangsu Province — home of North China congou (also called Keemun). Of all the Chinese black teas the ones most familiar to the West are commonly called ‘congou teas.’ The two principal divisions are north China congou and south China congou. The north China congous – from the provinces of Kiangsu, Anhui and Hunan were all typical English breakfast style teas. The most famous of these congous are the keemuns.
  • Sichuan Province — home of Orange Pekoe black tea. Orange Pekoe is a rating system that tells the general quality of the tea. It ranges from OP (bottom) to SFTGFOP1 (top).
  • Yunnan Province — home of Dian Hong (also called Yunnan Red or Yunnan Black) with its robust and malty character that’s good by itself or in blends, Broken Yunnan (BOP grade) generally used for blending and tends to be bitter, Golden Bi Luo that’s made in a style like the green version called Bi Luo Chun (from Jiangsu province in China), but with a local Yunnan varietal reminiscent of high grade Yunnan Gold, and Yunnan Gold that comes in grades from OP to with its abundance of soft golden tips and savory cocoa and black pepper flavors. There are also variations such as Yunnan Golden Tip, Yunnan Superfine Grade, and Yunnan First Grade.

Health Benefits of Black Tea (based on research studies)

While research is ongoing, drinking a freshly steeped cup of black tea per day has certainly been shown to be helpful, but not a cure-all. Black tea and others made from the tea plant species (Camellia sinensis) contain caffeine, which you can indulge in too much, resulting in caffeine-related side effects such as anxiety, insomnia, headache, nervousness, tremors and more. Also, be careful about combining them with foods that contain caffeine such as chocolate. And check with your doctor for possible interactions with medicines and supplements you are taking.

See our full blog article.

List of Health Benefits

  • Lowers the risk of heart disease and stroke with its anti-inflammatory properties and theophylline (increases blood flow in the capillaries, helps maintain normal blood pressure)
  • Lowers the risk of diabetes by regulating blood sugar levels
  • May protect lungs from damage caused by exposure to cigarette smoke
  • Can expand airways and ease breathing for asthmatics
  • Protects skin from UV rays
  • Has about half the caffeine of a standard cup of coffee
  • Good for oral health
  • Very low in sodium, fat and calories (without milk and sugar, honey, etc.)
  • Reduces the risk of kidney stones
  • Lowers the chances of getting Parkinson’s disease

Which Form Is Best

Just as for the green teas, I have to advocate that you stay with loose leaf tea. True, those bagged teas are convenient, but they are often also just stale dust. The loose tea is usually broken or whole leaf and can be infused a couple of times. The flavors tend to be more vibrant, so you can “take your medicine” and enjoy it at the same time.