Green beverages: Black tea varieties and blends

7 Famous Black Tea Varieties to Energize Your Mornings

Black tea, one of the most consumed beverages in the west, has its own world of flavours, essences, colours, blends, and stories. One cannot imagine a morning kickstart of enthusiasm without a cup of strong, astringent black tea; its caffeine content hits you right in the right place and its bold flavour revives your confidence. If you are a passionate tea drinker, we have got you some famous black tea varieties to explore and experiment with in your cup this year.

Understand your black tea

Originated in China, black tea has a rich history of production and trade. China introduced the world to black tea, and Britishers did the relocalization of the tea plantations. As British traders explored the possibility of tea production outside China, they introduced the Chinese tea varieties to India and Sri Lanka. Therefore, black tea did not remain confined to China any longer. Later on, they discovered the Indian tea varieties that gradually gained popularity in the tea industry due to their characteristic flavour and strength. As tea plants extended their roots to different geographic areas, India, China, Sri Lanka, and Kenya rose as the chief tea producers with their unique aroma and flavour notes.

Green beverages: Tea plants

Primarily, two varieties of tea plants are used: the short-leaved Chinese variety [Camellia sinensis var. sinensis] and the long-leaved Indian variety [Camellia sinensis var. assamica]. The Indian tea variety is mostly preferred; the longer the leaves, the higher the quality. Your other teas, green tea, white tea, and oolong tea, also come from this same plant, Camellia sinensis, but the difference lies in the processing and extent of oxidation. Black tea is the most oxidised among all, thus, carrying a dark colour and distinct flavour. The complete oxidation and high levels of processing account for its high caffeine and tannin levels, along with low antioxidant content. Other teas are less processed, with white tea being almost pure, green tea being a little processed, and oolong tea being partially oxidised.

CTC vs. Orthodox variety

You might have heard tea companies coming up with CTC tea and orthodox tea blends. The ones who are unfamiliar with them might confuse them with different tea plants, though they differ in terms of processing methods. Tea leaves coming from the same plant can be used to make either long-leaf tea, known as the orthodox variety, which has a rich and full flavour, or the CTC variety [crush, tear, and curl] that has a shorter infusion time and longer shelf life.

Even the orthodox variety can be further classified as full leaves, broken leaves, fannings, and dustings. Tea artisans carefully handpick all the leaves and carry out hours of selection processes just to deliver a satisfying cup of black tea to your breakfast table. A single tea leaf can be selected, processed, and blended in multiple ways to create a whole world of tea varieties.

Here we have picked 7 such black tea varieties and blends that you would not want to miss.

Black tea varieties

After black tea escaped the red dragon, various countries stepped in the commercial tea space with their own plantations. Most of these varieties are named after the region they are grown in.

1. Assam tea

Assam tea is grown in the Assam region of India; it is the most widely grown and consumed variety of black tea. Camellia sinensis var. assamica is grown near sea level and harvested in two flushes. It tastes different from the Chinese tea variety due to the heated temperatures and high rainfall responsible for imparting its characteristic malty flavour. The tea leaves are withered and processed into CTC tea mostly, which is why Assam tea is known to have high caffeine content and is often marketed as a breakfast tea. It is used as a base tea variety in English, Scottish, and Irish breakfast tea blends due to its bold, robust, and full-bodied flavour notes. Its smooth texture makes it a perfect choice for masala tea blends. Milk/cream and sweeteners are always complementary to its strong astringent cup. A cup of assam black tea with a little milk and natural sweeteners can have a striking effect on your taste buds and olfactory nerves.

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2. Darjeeling tea

Green beverages: loose leaf black tea and brewed black tea in kettle

Darjeeling tea is another tea variety from India, but unlike Assam tea, it comes with floral and fruity notes. It brews into a lighter cup of black tea and remains satisfactory on its own without any additions. Grown in Darjeeling, West Bengal, this tea variety is harvested in three major flushes, among which the first flush is considered of the highest quality. The first flush brews into a light, fruity, and floral cup, whereas the second flush is known as the "Champagne of Tea" due to its muscatel flavour. The Darjeeling teas are mostly processed into orthodox varieties, which upon a light steep give a thin-bodied liquor that balances perfectly with their floral fragrance.

3. Keemun tea

In the commercial space, China still leads as the largest producer of black tea. Keemun is the most famous Chinese tea variety, with the others being Lapsang Souchong, Yunnan Black Tea, Fujian Black Tea, and many more. It comes from the Anhui province and has its own different varieties. Keemun tea comes in a range of flavours: malty, piney, smoky, fruity, and floral. Unlike other teas, this famous Chinese black tea undergoes slow oxidation, thus giving off a very distinct and pleasing aroma. Its non-astringent notes enable you to enjoy it without adding any milk fat or sweeteners.

4. Ceylon tea

This Sri Lankan tea variety is a perfect choice for those who often switch between hot and cold tea brews. Ceylon originated from a Chinese tea variety, but later on, an Assam variety was adapted for the tea plantations. The tea is grown at different altitudes; the low-grown tea gives a burgundy brown liquor, the mid-grown tea is strong and rich, and the high-grown tea brews a perfect golden cup of black tea with a full-bodied taste and a citrusy aroma.

Read more by Green Beverages: Kahwa tea

Black tea blends

The flavour notes of black tea make it a perfect candidate for making blends. Various fragrances, flavourings, and mixtures are used to make a synergistic blend of black tea with enhanced qualities.

5. Earl Grey

Earl Grey is a blend that originated in the west in which black tea is infused with a fragrant essential oil coming from Bergamot orange. Bergamot oil imparts to it a citrus floral essence that soothes your nerves and enhances the experience. Sometimes it is also combined with vanilla to add a tincture of sweetness. If you enjoy the combination of floral aroma and malty flavour, get yourself a cup of Earl Grey tea.

6. English Breakfast tea

English Breakfast tea has its own distinct amber coloured liquor and robust taste. It is a blend of the finest black tea varieties from Assam, Sri Lanka, China, and Kenya. English Breakfast tea is made to complement the authentic European breakfast. Due to its full-bodied, astringent, bold, and strong flavour notes, it can be easily enjoyed both hot and iced. Assam tea is the primary base variety, which makes it a perfect blend to enjoy with milk and/or sweeteners. This synergistic mix of various teas carries flavours from different geographic areas to treat you with an energising delight.

7. Masala tea

Green beverages: A cup of sweet and spicy masala tea for the much-needed warmth.

Masala Tea is a black tea blend from India with a sweet and spicy note. The black tea is steeped with Indian spices and herbs, mainly cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, tulsi, clove, black pepper, nutmeg, and star anise.This spicy decoction is then gratified by adding milk and sweetener.

Also read: 8 Magical masala chai ingredients

Never forget to strain your masala tea to avoid encountering the raw spices and CTC tea in your mouth. This blend is widely consumed by the natives, particularly during the monsoon season, to provide much-needed warmth and immunity. Tea companies are making their own premix blends, both in the form of loose tea and tea bags. Masala tea is also getting adapted by the west with some changes in the mix to make it into a lighter and less spicy blend.

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