Black tea is made from the fresh buds from the camellia sinensis plant. What makes black tea different from other tea types is the degree of oxidation. Black tea is the most oxidized tea type of all of the tea types. The result of fully oxidizing tea leaves is a smoother, less bitter tea with a richer, more structured flavor.
Oxidizing tea is done through withering and rolling. First, the tea is withered by spreading tea leaves out to allow them to partially dry. After half of the water has evaporated, the tea leaves are then rolled. The rolling process involves pulling and pressing the tea leaves. This process breaks up cell structure in the leaves and stimulates a uniform enzymatic oxidation. The next step is to oxidize with air through various techniques depending on the tea type and culture. The most common process is heating the leaves in an oven. The exact degree of the heating process is responsible for the particular flavor of a finished tea. Finally, dried, fully oxidized leaves are sorted into whole leaves and broken leaves in a process called grading. Unbroken, whole leaf tea is considered to have the finest quality, best-tasting tea.
Black tea is the most popular type of tea in the world. It is also the most popular tea type in America, outselling green tea, white tea, and herbal blends by a landslide. According to the National Tea Association, roughly 84% of all tea consumed in the United States (2019 - 2020) was black tea, 15% was green tea, and 1% was oolong and white tea.
English Breakfast, introduced in 1892 by Scots teamaster Robert Drysdale and Earl Grey, are the most popular black tea blends. Charles Grey, an English politician, is credited for the popular black tea blend Earl Grey, a black tea blend flavored with bergamot orange oil. Allegedly, the orange flavoring was designed to cover the lime taste of the prime minister’s local well water. Grey was so delighted by the blend he asked local British tea merchants to recreate it. This blend became known as Earl Grey.
Lapsang Souchong (or Pine-Smoked Tea) is a black tea that is finished by smoke-drying the leaves over a pinewood fire. Lapsang Souchong is produced in Fujian Province, China, and in Taiwan. The Taiwanese style is said to have a smokier flavor, while the Chinese Lapsang Souchong has a finer, more delicate smoked flavor. We use Taiwanese Lapsang Souchong in many of our tea blends for its unique smoked flavor.
Lapsang Souchong tea is originally from the Wuyi Shan region of China. According to legend, this smoky tea was a happy accident. The Wuyi Shan region was invaded by the military, which forced the tea farmers to hide great quantities of tea. Because tea was a precious commodity, they had to bury the tea in the mountains, but to prevent it from rotting, they had to dry it quickly. They did so by smoking it over pinewood. The tea merchants found the tea undrinkable, but since it had already been bought by Dutch buyers, they delivered it to them in the hopes that they wouldn’t mind the smoky flavor. On the contrary, the Dutch fell in love with the flavor and requested more at double the initial price.