The colour of black tea is not actually black, it is more of a coppery red. In China it is actually called “hong cha“, which means “red tea”. The dark red colour is a result of the oxidation process, i.e. the juice in the leaves react with the oxygen in the air when the fibers are broken during rolling.
The flavour of black tea is less bitter and astringent, thus it’s easier for westerners to like and appreciate since we are not used to bitter tasting tea.
Four Big Producers
India, China, Kenya and Sri Lanka (Ceylon) are the four biggest producers of black tea. The Indian variety of the tea bush called Camellia sinensis var. assamica is often used in Sri Lanka and India. It has bigger leaves and is more tolerant to cold weather than the Chinese Camellia sinensis var. sinensis.
Two well known areas in India that produce black tea are Assam and Darjeeling. Tea from Assam is dark red and strong, whereas Darjeeling produces an orange tea that looks more like the semi-oxidized oolong.
When it comes to black tea one can often see abbreviations like FOP and FNGS. These tea grades describe the size of the leaf and the quality of the tea. Tea that has been cut into small pieces renders a stronger and darker cup of tea, because more tea is in contact with the hot water. This type of tea is often sold in teabags.
Below is a simplified description of the different tea grades.
The grades that are mainly related to leaf size are these:
- FOP | OP | P (Flowery Orange Pekoe) = whole leaves
- BOP | BP (Broken Orange Pekoe) = large pieces
- CTC (Crushed Teared Curled) = small pieces
- D (Dust) = very small pieces
- FNGS (Fannings) = very small pieces
Grades that are mainly related to tea quality:
- G (Golden) = some presence of yellow buds among the leaves
- T (Tippy) = more yellow buds than G
Is Black Tea Wholesome?
All types of tea are wholesome since they all made of the same kind of plant (Camellia sinensis). Tea leaves are full of antioxidants that could protect the cells from free radicals. However, the unoxidised green teas are less processed and therefore contain more nutrients.
A report was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2006 that concluded that three cups of tea per day, or more, reduce the risk of heart attack. The researchers found no evidence that tea was in way bad for your health, except for people who suffer from anaemia. The black tea could interfere with the absorption of non-heme iron.
Another positive effect of black tea is that theine (caffeine) appears to improve mental capacity, since it has a stimulating effect. A negative effect is that it can be dehydrating. However, the researchers did not see any major risk for dehydration as long as the amount of theine per cup was less than 250 mg. A cup of black tea (15 cl) normally contains only 40–60 mg of theine.
How to Prepare Black Tea
When one prepares black tea the water should be hot (90–100 degrees Celsius) to fully extract all the flavours from the leaves. Use one tablespoon tea per cup (15 cl) and let it steep for 2–3 minutes.