The Basics of Black Tea

Posted in Fava Tea

When we mention tea, it’s likely that you’re thinking of a rich, amber-colored liquid with a slightly astringent taste. That’s because 90% of all tea sold in the United States is black tea, and the majority of it is consumed iced! There’s so much more to this tea staple than meets the eye though, so let’s dive in to some basics about black tea!

What is black tea?

We get this question a lot – what’s the difference between a black and a green and an oolong and a white? The simple answer can be summed up with one word: oxidation! Similar to the way a cut apple left sitting out will quickly begin to brown, tea leaves (picked from the Camellia sinensis plant) turn from a bright green to a beige, and eventually a rich brown color. The deeper the color, the more oxidized the tea is, and when left to fully oxidize, the result is black tea!

Does black tea contain caffeine?

Yes! Like most true teas made from the Camellia sinensis plant, black tea contains caffeine. On average, it has about 50mg of caffeine per 8-ounce cup. For comparison, the average cup of coffee has about 95mg per cup, which is why our standard answer is “about half the caffeine as a cup of coffee.” Black tea does, however, contain more caffeine than its green, oolong, and white tea counterparts, which makes it a great option for your morning routine or if you’re trying to cut back on coffee but still want that extra boost of energy.

Where is black tea from?

Up until the 17th century, the only teas consumed in China were green and oolong. As the tale goes, black tea was accidentally discovered when a passing army took shelter at a local tea factory in the Fujian Province and held up production. Because the leaves were left out in the sun, they fully oxidized, resulting in darker leaves. In an attempt to salvage the harvest, the leaves were smoked over pinewood, creating the first variety of black tea: Lapsang Souchong.

Today, the large majority of black tea is still produced by China and India, but it can also be found today in a wealth of other countries, including Kenya, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Iran.

What happened with the British?

Thanks to the additional oxidation process, black tea boasts an improved lifespan, which made it increasingly popular with traders looking to export the product back to Europe. When popularity exploded and the Dutch took over the main trade routes from China, it forced British traders to explore other ways to acquire the commodity. The solution was found in India, where another variety of the tea plant (Camellia sinensis-assamica) was commonplace. When Princess Catherine introduced black tea to the British palace in 1685, courtesy of the East India Company, it quickly became a staple in the life of not only British royalty, but anyone of high wealth or status. Tea would become a part of daily life for Europeans and Colonists across the Atlantic, and would eventually become a major player in the sparks of the American Revolution, which you can read more about in our blog post about the Boston Tea Party!

What is the difference between Camellia sinensis and Camellia sinensis-assamica?

All true tea originates from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, but there are two main varieties that make up most of the tea we drink today. The traditional Camellia sinensis plant thrives in the higher elevations of China’s mountainous region. These leaves are typically smaller and more delicate and are known for a lighter, softer flavor. Meanwhile, the high-yielding Camellia sinensis-assamica is native to the Assam region of India and prefers lower elevations and a warmer climate. Because of this, the plant often grows significantly larger, sometimes resembling a small tree, and can be plucked more frequently than it’s delicate cousin. The result is a bolder, more astringent cup that withstands other ingredients (like those found in chai) significantly better.

Are there any health benefits to black tea?

While it should always be noted that the impact of any benefits may vary by consumer, research has suggested that black tea may help promote increased mental awareness (largely a result of the higher levels of caffeine), lower blood pressure, and improved heart health. Before taking up a regimen of black tea for health benefits, we strongly recommend consulting your doctor for their recommendation. We can, however, tell you that simply holding a warm cup of delicious black tea is certain to brighten your day!

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