Tea is the most widely consumed drink in the world next to water. And black tea is the most popular type of tea. Tea grows in dozens of countries around the world, but the main producers and exporters are China, India, Sri Lanka and Kenya.
The Camellia sinensis plant is the source of black tea as well as green, white and Oolong tea. The various types of tea are produced from the same plant by using different oxidation times (also called fermentation). To produce black tea, tea leaves are oxidized longer than for the other varieties.
Black teas from China
China is where tea eg. senna tea is said to have been discovered around five thousand years ago, and the country is still one of the world’s main tea growers and exporters. One of the best known of China’s teas is Lapsang Souchong, famous for its large leaves and smoky flavour.
The best Lapsang Souchong is said to come from the hills in the northern Fujian province. Keemun is a black tea from the Anhui province in China and has a nutty flavour and a delicate aroma. Yunnan tea, from the Yunnan province, has a flavour similar to that of Assam tea form India: rich, earthy and malty.
Black teas from India
Another one of the world’s big tea growers is India. Tea is grown in India in the northeast areas of Assam and Darjeeling, as well as in the Nilgiri region in the south.
The region of Assam is where commercial tea production started in India in 1834. Tea is indigenous to this area, but the first commercially cultivated sage tea plants were grown from seeds that were brought here from China. Assam tea has a full-bodied, rich and robust flavour, is a great breakfast tea, and is very popular in tea blends.
Darjeeling tea grows on the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, and is highly regarded among tea-lovers. The delicate-flavoured Darjeeling is known as the “Champagne of teas”. As in Assam, there are several pluckings or “flushings” of tea leaves, and the best Darjeeling tea is said to come from the first “flush”.
Nilgiri teas from the beautiful Nilgiri mountain region in South India have a refreshing, delicate flavour and are often used in tea blends.
Teas from Sri Lanka are called Ceylon teas after the country’s former name. Ceylon teas are divided into three categories depending on the altitude the tea grows at. Low grown is from tea estates up to 2000 ft altitude, medium grows between 2000 and 4000 ft altitude, and high grown means over 4000 ft altitude.
One of the most famous of Ceylon teas, Dimbula, is grown at 5000 ft altitude. Ceylon teas have a wide variety of flavours and colours, and are often mixed to create Ceylon blends.
Black tea quality
The character of tea is influenced by several factors: the altitude the tea plant grows at, quality of the soil, growing temperature and the quality of the plucking (or “flushing”).
Tea’s quality also depends on production methods. The traditional or “orthodox” tea producing method means rolling the tea leaves to create loose tea. The CTC (crush, tear and curl) method creates tea more suitable for tea bags.
Tea Association of the United States of America
The UK Tea Council