Black tea is a worldwide favorite and one of the oldest drinks around. I say, you cannot go wrong with choosing any form of black tea, particularly:
…a chai tea latte,
…sweetened iced tea,
…Earl Grey with a splash of milk.
Not only are there so many ways to drink your black tea, but there are tons of varieties!
In this article, we’re going to look at:
- What black tea is and where it comes from
- Black tea benefits and side effects.
- Tips on how to brew
- Our best black tea recipes
Let’s dive in!
What is black tea?
Black tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant and is what most of us are referring to when we talk about tea. In fact, it’s the most common beverage in the world after water. This popularity is partly due to its long and ancient history and partly to do with the many ways we can enjoy it today.
Black tea grows in warm and humid climates such as China and India. Half the world’s black tea is grown in the latter, but today most of the rest actually comes from Sri Lanka and Africa.
You might be wondering what makes black tea different from other types and where that intense, rich color comes from.
The tea’s unique shade is down to oxidation – the leaves are allowed to absorb oxygen before they are processed fully. This process is what darkens them.
After being picked they remain whole, being only partially broken. They are then withered, rolled and bruised to start oxidation. If the tea is cut into smaller pieces, the larger surface area lets them oxidize further. This is why the leaves in black tea bags are darker than loose leaf. After this, they are fired or heated to halt the oxidation process.
Exposing the leaves to more oxygen wasn’t just about producing that malty, smoky flavor, it could actually be the source of black tea’s popularity. As tea was shipped abroad over the centuries, exporters discovered that the tea retained more freshness as it was already oxidized.
Another happy accident was also borne of this contribution to black tea’s strong flavor. The firm favorite met its partner in sugar in the 18th and 19th centuries. Sugar’s sweetness provided the perfect complement as opposed to the slight bitterness of green tea.
With the discovery of Camellia sinensis assamica in 1823 the story was complete. This hearty, bold variety gave us one of the black teas we most know and love today. England’s ruling of India meant that the fields of Darjeeling could be filled with the leaves and delivered back to keep the empire refreshed.
But black tea isn’t a one-cup experience. Let’s discover some of its other varieties.
Black tea types
As we know, black tea is grown all over the world’s warm climates. It’s this diversity that gives us its different types. Where the tea is grown, what else is nearby, the farming process, how it’s oxidized, treated and cut all affect the flavor.
Here are some popular black tea types:
This black tea is grown in the largest tea-growing region in the world in northeast India. The rainy, tropical climate produces this bold, malty favorite. It’s perfect with milk and sugar.
Assam’s neighbor in the north of India, this tea is grown in leafy mountains. The soil produces a softer, grassy taste which changes from season to season. It’s the base for sweet chai tea.
Grown on half a million Sri Lankan acres in a varied climate. Ranging from cool and mountainous to humid and tropical, this black tea type is strong and sharp with spicy notes.
This tea is a recent addition to the tea producers of the world. It has risen to among those at the top in a short time due to the rich soil, good weather, quick growth and production. The flavor is strong and full.
Back to black tea’s roots in China. Like many oriental varieties, this one is light, aromatic and almost sweet.
Did you know: this tea is believed to be named after Charles Grey, the English Prime Minister of the early 1830s. Blended with orange-like bergamot, its signature flavor is citrus.
Perhaps originating in the United States with homesick Brits, this robust staple tea is a blend of Assam, Ceylon and Kenyan tea.
Grown in Fujian in southeastern China, this black tea’s rich flavor comes from the unique way that the leaves are roasted.
It’s this wonderful world of varieties that gives us a wealth of teas to enjoy. Even better is that you don’t just have to enjoy it hot and steeped. It comes in all shapes and sizes – sweet, iced, frothy and even in ice cream!
What are black tea’s benefits?
We know love it, but is black tea good for us?
Like all of the true teas, those from the Camellia sinensis plant, black tea is made up of special plant substances called polyphenols. These contain catechins, which have been shown to have antioxidant properties.
Antioxidants are helpful in neutralizing the effects of cell aging and death. They can help conditions such as high blood pressure, inflammation and more serious illness such as cancer.
Other substances called flavonoids, part of black tea’s makeup, have been linked to health by lowering triglycerides, sugar levels and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol. In fact, one study showed that drinking three cups of tea a day could reduce heart disease by 11%.
A final bonus could be the calming effects many of us feel when drinking tea. A chemical called L-theanine might be behind this, increasing focus and relaxation in the brain.
There’s been a lot of interesting scientific research into black tea’s benefits, and it seems that it could be good for us. However, it’s important to remember that tea isn’t a supplement for prescribed medicines and should be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet.
Is there anything else we need to be aware of? Should we be careful when consuming black tea?
Black tea side effects
In general, drinking a moderate (1-3 cups per day) amount of black tea isn’t thought to be harmful. As with anything, excessive amounts could cause a problem. General advice is that more than five cups per day could start to trigger black tea’s side effects.
A major element to consider is caffeine. Even though it doesn’t compare to the stimulant-packed coffee, tea is second in terms of caffeine concentration.
Caffeine overdose can be serious, inducing symptoms such as insomnia, nervousness, heart palpitations, diarrhea, frequent urination, anemia and heartburn. It could also exacerbate existing conditions and be can be harmful for pregnancy.
It’s always best to follow published guidelines and seek medical advice if you are concerned.
Now we know the benefits and how to consume it safely, let’s look at some of the best ways to brew black tea.
Black tea recipes
First, to make a quintessential cup, here’s our expert guide. A good tea provider should be able to tell you the best method for your specific varieties, but there are a few basics to follow.
- Fresh and preferably filtered water is best. This prevents limescale in your kettle and a film on your tea.
- If you’re using loose leaf tea, two grams per 8oz cup is good.
- Heat water to 200-212°F and steep tea for 3-5 minutes. Due to the increased level of oxidation, which has already taken place, black tea can stand higher temperatures and a longer steeping time. The oxygen involved in these processes won’t make the tea bitter as it might with a less-oxidized green tea.
Tip: if you don’t have a temperature-controlled kettle, just boil as normal and let the water sit for 30 seconds – 212°F is the average boiling point of water.
- Be sure to remove the bag or leaves after the maximum steeping time. Tea left too long will oxidize and become bitter due to the increased astringency. You can taste it during steeping and leave a little longer if you like.
- High-quality black tea leaves can be steeped multiple times!
- If you like, temper the strength with milk and sugar. For a healthy and fresh alternative, try it plain and pure.
You only need a few ingredients to make a classic chai tea and enjoy its sweet spiciness. Along with a masala chai mix like this one, simply blend 1 ½ cups of ice and half a cup of milk until smooth. You can add 1-2tsp of chocolate syrup for an extra hint of sweetness.
Another favorite black tea recipe that is perfect for summer and so refreshing is iced tea. Make your own by steeping four tea bags in a quarter gallon of water for ten minutes. Allow it to cool and combine with another quarter gallon of cold water, the juice of five lemons and 3-4oz of sugar to taste.
Black tea, still the world’s favorite
Wow, what a journey. We’ve asked ‘what is black tea?’ and looked at different types and where they come from. We’ve also explored the black tea’s benefits and possible side effects, before looking at how best to make it.
It seems that there are so many ways to enjoy this wonderful, fresh tea. As long as we do so in moderation, we can continue to brew black tea for thousands more years.
How do you drink black tea?
Share with us in the comments below!