Black Tea: The Basics
This is in response to a question I get asked a lot.
“What is black tea?”
The production of black tea is quite a recent phenomenon in the history of tea.
The process of making black tea starts like any other tea (green, white or oolong) – plucking. Plucking is usually done by hand by skilled tea pickers (although in some regions, machinery is also used). Generally, the top two leaves and a bud of the tea plant are plucked at just the peak of flavor and freshness.
The thing that makes tea “black” lies in the way it is procesed. With black tea, the leaves, once plucked, are first “withered”. Withering is a relatively simple process of blowing hot air on the leaves. Once withering is completed, the leaves are “oxidized”. This means that the leaves are exposed to oxygen as they are rolled so that any excess moisture evaporates from the leaves. The result is a dried tea leaf that takes on its characteristic dark brown or black color.
Here’s a great photo I found on Flickr that shows a tea leaf during the various stages of production:
Originally uploaded by s_slack.
The tea leaves are then sorted into various grades (which explains the strange acronyms you might have come across on a product label). For example, you might find a Darjeeling tea graded as SFTGFOP (Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe), or an Assam graded as BPS (Broken Pekoe Souchong). Note that grading is not standardized and varies greatly according to where the tea is from. It is also incredibly important to realize that grading does not necessarily indicate a teas quality or flavor profile. Rather, grading is done according to leaf size.
I think I’ll cover grading tea in a future post. For now remember that black tea is black because its fully oxidized. Oolong, green and white teas are different because they are either not oxidized at all or partially oxidized.
Enjoy the weekend.
Check out our entire black tea selection at The Simple Leaf.
Filed under: assam, black tea, brewing, darjeeling, grading, production | 3 Comments