Black Tea Types & Taste Guide

The world of tea is so versatile and interesting. It is such a wonderful fact that thousands of different tea types are produced from the tender shoots of a single plant, Camellia Sinensis. And out of thousands of teas that are produced all over the world, black tea holds a prominent position as the most popular type of tea. Black tea accounts for nearly 78% of all the tea types that are produced in the world.

When it comes to production data, India, Kenya, and Sri Lanka (Ceylon) are considered as the major Black tea producers in the world. On the other hand, when considering the consumption data, according to US tea fact sheet (2018-2019). Americans have consumed more than 84 billion servings of tea in 2018. This requires more than 3.8 billion gallons of tea. Approximately 84% of the consumption was black tea, another 15% was green tea, and the remaining 1% was white, oolong, and dark tea”.

Production of black tea relies on one basic principle: the degree of oxidation. All the black teas are produced through full oxidation of tender tea leaves. 

The flavor of black tea in a nutshell

The world of tea has many different black teas from different origins. Hence it might be a difficult task to describe the taste of black tea in a few words. However, if we contrast black tea with other tea types such as green tea, some common taste aspects can be identified.

Black tea, in general, has sharp, full-bodied and somewhat astringent flavor notes, yet some are soft and super smooth. One important factor is the varying with the size of the tea leaf. The large leaf black teas often have mild and floral flavor profile in comparison to strong and full-bodied small leaf tea.

In the next section, we’ll discuss black teas from different tea regions and their specific taste character.

Types of black & taste

Indian Black tea: Some of the most renowned black teas are produced in India. Out of all, Assam and Darjeeling teas can be regarded as two legendary discoveries of the country. Even if these are from the same country, distinct differences can be seen among the two types. 

Assam origin teas generally have thick and full-bodied character and due to this fact these teas are commonly used to manufacture tea bags as well as for some renowned milk tea blends such as “English breakfast tea”.

Darjeeling teas, on the other hand, are produced at the hills near “Himalayas” and the teas show light, bright and very delicate floral notes.  Some relate the characters of Darjeeling tea to attributes of champagne.

Ceylon Black tea (Sri Lanka): Ceylon was the old tea country of the British Empire and today named as Sri Lanka. Surprisingly the name Ceylon still has a prominence in the tea industry, thus the tea manufactured in Sri Lanka is referred to as “Ceylon tea”.

The country has blessings from Mother Nature as the topography of the country is very unique and is ideal for tea cultivation. The black teas that are produced in different regions of the country have distinct flavor profiles and seven such regions can be identified as per current clarification. Those have been named as Ruhuna, Sabaragamuwa, Kandy, Dimbula, Nuwara Eliya, Uva, and Udapussellawa. Generally, the teas that are produced in Sri Lanka are highly flavorful and slightly astringent.

Kenyan black tea: Kenya is one of the major Black tea producers in the world. Unlike other black tea producers, the country uses almost 100% of CTC style for manufacturing of Black tea. This means the country produces more of small leaf tea types which suit best for production of tea bags. Due to this production technique, the teas that are produced in Kenya have very strong, thick and full-bodied flavor profile. Hence these teas are commonly used to pair with milk.

Chinese black tea: China has many regions that produce black teas, but the main regions are in Yunnan and Fujian. Premium black teas such as Yunnan Gold (Dian Hong) or Jin Jun Mei from Fujian, often have a golden appearance due to the use of many downy buds that turn gold during processing. Chinese black teas often feature hints of caramel, honey, and longan fruit.

How to brew the best tasting black tea?

black tea brewing best taste

For regular tea drinkers, the general instruction for black brewing tea would be to use 2-3 grams of tea leaves for a regular cup size of hot water (6oz). The water temperature to be kept at 90 °C and the tea leaves to be brewed for 3-5 minutes in a closed container.

However, these general instructions may not work well for each and every black tea that you try to brew. Therefore, there are few basic principles to keep in mind so that you know how to play around with different types of black teas.

  1. The particle size of tea leaves: The particle size of any tea is very important to prepare a great cup of tea. For example, a large leaf tea will result in a comparatively milder brew than a small leaf tea, if you brew both using same parameters. So you can alter the brewing time depending on the type of tea you have and the strength of tea that you prefer to drink.
  2. Brewing water: A typical cup of tea contains 99% of water and the characteristic of water can have a greater impact on the flavor of a teacup. Therefore, it is recommended to use water that is free from excess minerals (hard water) and substances like chlorine.
  3. Water temperature: For black tea, it is recommended to keep water temperature around 90 °C and it is not recommended to re-boil the water as it can make an impact on the flavor profile of the tea.
  4. Brewing time: Recommended brewing time for black tea is generally 3 to 5 minutes. However, there is no hard rule for the brewing of black tea, you can change the brewing time as per your preference. For instance, if you prefer lighter tea, you could brew it for less than 3 minutes and if you prefer a strong cup of tea, you could brew it little more than 5 minutes.  
  5. Tea & water ratio: The steeping time will depend on the so called tea-water ratio. Some tea lovers prefer to brew a lot of tea (e.g. 6-8 grams) in a small vessel such as Yixing teapots or porcelain gaiwans. Thus, the steeping time can sometimes be reduced to just 20 seconds. As the portions are small, the leaves can often be steeped for 5-12 sessions, depending on the specific type of tea used.
  6. Brewing utensils: It is important to use clean teaware for any good tea brewing. Especially make sure to use a clean teapot or gaiwan for each and every new tea brewing. In some tea cultures, the teaware is rinsed with warm water in advance, thus it helps for better temperature retention. It is important to keep the lid closed during the brewing as it retains the temperature well within the container. For some teas that doesn’t require too much heat (such as green tea), the teaware could remain open. If you’re drinking tea with others a tea pitcher (gong dao bei) will also be of great use.
  7. Additives: Many original tea lovers prefer to drink their tea without any artificial additives. However today with the competitive beverage market trends, black tea has made available in many value added forms. Usage of additives is one such method and some common additives for black tea are sugar and milk. If you don’t like to drink the tea on its own you could add milk, sugar or both according to your taste. On the other hand, you would have come across many artificially flavored black teas such as “earl grey”, “lemon” “mint” and etc. This technique is also used in commercial scale to give an added flavor for black tea; however, in this process, it is hard to taste the original flavor. Moving on from these trends, today the black teas are blended with different herbs and fruit pieces so that these herbs and fruits can give an extra flavor to a regular cup of tea.

How to make black tea taste better?

Generally if you’re black tea fan, but you’re not satisfied with the taste, it’s important to tweak your brewing parameters as described above.

If you are not a fan of plain black tea or if you’ve made black tea purchase that you regret, here is a common recipe to make your tea taste better and refreshing.

Black tea with lemon and mint recipe

This combination is greater when you served it in iced tea form.

  1. Simply what you have to do is to brew your black tea in the usual way and make sure the black tea is not very strong.
  2. Add about a half teaspoon of lemon juice and garnish with some mint leaves.
  3. Serve with ice and add a hint of sugar or honey to the taste. 

These are few tips and information regarding the flavor profile of black tea. Hope you would use these guidelines to can play around with your tea to make in your own style!

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