The first tea type Nathan and I were “introduced” to was black tea, which consists of tea leaves that have been fully oxidized. When looking at tea, it’s helpful to notice the cut of the leaves. In most cases, whole leaves are more valuable.
After leaves are plucked from the Camellia sinensis plant, the processing can begin. Creating black tea basically consists of four steps: withering, rolling, oxidizing, and firing (or drying).
The tea leaves are spread out to wilt until they’re limp enough to be rolled without splitting
Leaves are rolled to release enzymes within
Rolled lumps of tea are broken up and spread out in a cool, humid place for several hours to absorb oxygen. This causes a chemical change – oxidation – in the leaf particles and turns the leaves from green to red
Oxidized leaves are then fired to stop the oxidation. This is where leaves turn the black color we all know as black tea
We sampled about ten different black teas, including Nilgiri, Ceylon, Keemun, Yunnan, Golden Needles, Assam, Kenya and Darjeeling. As a newbie, it’s difficult for me to distinguish certain flavor notes and differences between each tea but I’m sure it will come with time and lots of tea drinking!
Here are brief notes on each tea we tasted:
Nilgiri- comes from the “Blue Mountains” in the southern tip of India. This is a pretty mild and fruity black tea that is good for blending and also ideal for iced tea.
Ceylon- a fruity Sri Lankan tea with a bit of astringency. It is also a good tea for blending as it is mellow and smooth.
Yunnan- is named after the southern Chinese province it’s produced. It contains leaf buds which are the golden flecks you see in the dry tea. These give it a soothing feel and a subtle sweetness.
Golden Needles- contains only the young tips and buds of Chinese tea which is what gives it the golden color and name. This tea is quite flavorful and has notes of chocolate, molasses and prunes.
Assam- we tried two different Assam teas. Both are from northern India and have a malty and sweet flavor. Assam is great with milk and makes a very nice breakfast tea.
Darjeeling- we sampled two different Darjeeling teas. This classic Indian tea has a very pleasant aroma that compliments its fruity and floral taste.
Helpful Tips for Enjoying Tea
Steeping Unsure when you can steep your tea leaves again? A good way to tell is how open the leaves are. If the buds and leaves lay flat they’re pretty much used up but if they’re still closed you can steep and enjoy again.
Bitter Tea There are three common reasons why a brewed tea is bitter: too much leaf, too hot of water or too long of a steeping.
Coming up in my next post is Oolong tea!