Black teas, which the Chinese sometimes call red teas because of the amber colour of the infusion (not to be confused with rooibos red tea), are fully oxidised teas. From the rich and malty Assam teas, to the refined and honeyed Darjeelings, to the more floral and earthy Chinese Keemuns, there are many superb and seductively delicious black teas to enjoy. While the history of this style of tea making is a little blurry, evidence indicates that it is probably a derivative of other more traditional Chinese styles, such as the semi-oxidised oolong and the smoked Lapsang Souchong.
The story of black tea is rooted in the Chinese tea trade with the West. Stronger and darker teas were favoured by the British and Dutch traders of the 18th century, because they lasted better on long voyages and appealed more to the western palate. By the 1850’s most Chinese tea regions were making fully oxidised teas, predominantly for export. As Western demand for black tea grew, the black tea production process and the related tea bush varietals were successfully transposed to newly created plantations in India, Ceylon, Indonesia and East Africa.
Black teas undergo all the basic tea making steps – the harvested tea bush leaves are withered, rolled or bruised, allowed to fully oxidise, and then dried and sorted. While nowadays much of this is done using modern technology on vast tea estates, there are still a number of high-quality black teas produced in China and India using traditional artisan methods. Earl Grey tea, which is black tea scented with Bergamot oil, and Chai, which blends black tea with aromatic spices, have also become household favourites, adding to the incredible range of this style of tea’s flavours and aromas.