Black tea is THE tea as far as many are concerned. Sure there is much mention of green tea these days, but the fact is that the black variety offers many of the same health benefits and tastes much better, at least to this humble author’s palette.
Both black AND green tea, as does all real tea, have as their source the Camellia Sinensis bush (or tree). The differences between the main types of teas, such as white, green, black, etc. are how long the leaves are allowed to age in the air (sometimes called fermenting) before being processed into a brew-able product. Also, there are differences in other preparation processes, such as whether the leaves are smoked, how they are dried, etc… For example, white tea is processed immediately after picking, with no aging. Green tea is only allowed to age for one or two days. And black teas are aged until they completely oxidize, which usually takes two to four weeks. The leaves then turn very dark, but not actually black, despite the name. When infused, this tea produces a reddish-brown liquid, sometimes called the liquor.
The so-called black or red tea also has had economic and cultural significance around the world for hundreds of years. Because it is already fully aged, black tea tends not to degrade during storage. While the other teas may only last a few days or weeks before spoiling, black tea can stay good and fresh for months or even years. Some cultures have even used bricks of black tea leaves as currency in the past.
Other benefits of the long aging process involved in creating black tea include a stronger flavor and higher caffeine content than other teas. It would seem more likely that the aging process would leach both flavor and caffeine from the leaves, but the opposite is true. The long aging period in the production of black tea actually strengthens both flavor and caffeine concentration.
As mentioned earlier, black colored tea is not actually black at all. In fact, it is sometimes called red tea, mostly because it produces a dark reddish color when the leaves are brewed. This can be confusing since, in many Western cultures, the term red tea frequently refers to drinks that are not actually teas at all, but rather tisanes made from the South African rooibos plant. Recall that all real tea comes from the Camellia Sinensis bush. A tisane or herbal tea, not tea at all. So technically, there is no such thing as “herbal tea.”
Depending on your taste, black tea may be drunk with the addition of milk and/or some sort of sweetener. In the west, it is common to drink hot black tea with milk and sugar. Iced tea, which is almost always made from black tea, is also frequently served at restaurants already sweet. IN the south you actually have to ask for “unsweet tea” if you don’t like it sweet.
So to recap, “black” is the name given to tea whose leaves are aged for the longest period of time. The process results in a tea with a stronger flavor, and more caffeine, and longer shelf life, than other types of tea.
Ken Theriot, or TeaSnob Ken, as his wife has started calling him, has been drinking tea in most of its forms all his life. But it was only in the past few years that it replaced coffee as the morning (and afternoon, and evening) hot, a brown beverage of choice.
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