What is Black Tea? Types, Origins, and How to Brew

Black tea is a type of tea produced from the camellia sinensis plant that is highly oxidized, resulting in a dark reddish-gold hue, a hearty, slightly astringent flavor, and a moderate amount of caffeine. While black, green, oolong, white, pu-erh, and purple teas all originate from the same plant, different varietals of the plant, in addition to different processing techniques, result in very different kinds of tea.

Many people new to the world of tea are most familiar with black tea. You can find black tea in name-brand teabags at the grocery store like Lipton or Tetley. Popular breakfast blends like English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast are other examples of black tea. Black teas tend to be relatively high in caffeine, with about half as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. They brew up a dark, coppery color, and usually have a stronger, more robust flavor than other types of tea.

How black tea is made

Black teas are typically produced from two different varieties of the tea plant, camellia sinensis sinensis and camellia sinensis assamica. To produce black tea, tea leaves are harvested, wilted, and then lightly crushed. Some types of black tea, such as Irish Breakfast, are broken up into even smaller pieces using a method known as crush-tear-curl, or CTC. The tea leaves are then fully oxidized, which turns them a brownish-black color. The tea is then dried, sorted, and packaged.

Where black tea is from

Black tea is primarily produced in China and India. Other up-and-coming tea-producing countries that export black tea include Sri Lanka, Nepal, Vietnam, and Kenya.

Chinese black tea

Chinese black teas originate in China, where they have a rich history stretching back centuries. Chinese black teas tend to be slightly lighter and milder, and are lovely when taken on their own with no need for milk or sugar. In China, these teas are called “red tea,” with “black tea” referring only to aged and fermented teas such as pu-erh. Chinese black teas include teas like China Keemun, Golden Yunnan, and Lapsang Souchong.

Indian black tea

Indian black teas are grown and produced in India, often in famed growing regions like Assam and Darjeeling. Black teas grown in India are typically grown from the camellia sinensis var. assamica tea varietal, and have a darker, richer, and more full-bodied character. Breakfast blends such as English Breakfast and Irish Breakfast are often made up of Indian black teas. Other teas grown in India include Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri. For those interested in exploring Indian teas, our Star of India is a wonderful introductory tea that blends Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri together.

Other black teas

While China and India are the two main black tea producers, other tea producing countries occupy a growing share of the market. These include Japan, Kenyan, Nepal, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka.

Black tea health benefits

Black tea is full of health benefits, including boosting energy, soothing headaches, fighting off colds, and more. Some of the many benefits of black tea include:

    • High in antioxidants - Darjeeling black tea is high in antioxidants, which can help to reduce harmful free radicals in the body and ward off cancer and other degenerative diseases.
    • Good for energy - Darjeeling contains a moderate amount of caffeine, which can give you the boost of energy you need to power through the day.
    • Improves focus - In addition to caffeine, black tea also contains l-theanine, a compound that helps to reduce stress and aid in mental clarity. Together, caffeine and l-theanine can work to improve your focus and boost your brainpower.
    • Good for your heart - Black tea contains flavanoids that can reduce stress on the heart and help to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
    • Helps digestion - A cup of black tea can help you digest rich meals and soothe stomach troubles.
    • Reduces inflammation - Black tea also has anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce inflammation and calm symptoms of illnesses like arthritis.
    • Wards off colds - Worried about getting sick? Black tea contains antiviral and antimicrobial properties that can help to boost your immune system and protect you against the common cold and other illnesses.
    • Soothes headaches - Thanks to its moderate caffeine content, a cup of Darjeeling can help to soothe minor headaches.

    Black tea caffeine content

    Black tea has a moderate-to-high level of caffeine, containing about half as much caffeine as coffee per cup. The caffeine content present in black tea is influenced by several factors, including tea varietal, leaf size, water temperature, and steep time.

    Tea varietal

    While all tea is made from the same camellia sinensis tea plant, there are two main varietals. Black tea is produced either from the camellia sinensis var. sinensis varietal, which is native to China, or from the camellia sinensis var. assamica varietal, which is native to India. Camellia sinensis var. sinensis tends to be lower in caffeine.

    Leaf size

    Full-leaf teas tend to be slightly lower in caffeine than teas made of broken leaves or fannings. Black teas can be composed of either full or broken tea leaves depending on the tea type and processing methods. Irish Breakfast is an example of an extremely fine, high caffeine tea, while Nepalese Gold is an example of a full-leaf tea that is lower in caffeine.

    Water temperature

    We recommend preparing most black teas with boiling water that has reached a temperature of approximately 212 degrees. The hotter the water, the more caffeine is present in the tea. If you live at a high elevation, as we do in Santa Fe, your water may not reach a full 212 degrees before it starts to boil.

    Steep time

    We recommend infusing most black teas for about three to five minutes. Black teas are typically infused for a longer period of time than most other teas, which contributes to their higher caffeine content. If you plan on taking your black tea with milk and sweetener, you may want to consider a longer steep time for a full-bodied brew.

    How to prepare black tea

    Black tea is one of the more forgiving types of tea when it comes to proper preparation. To prepare black tea, you should use approximately one teaspoon of tea leaves for every six ounces in your pot or cup. Heat your water to boiling (approximately 212 degrees), then steep your tea leaves for about three to five minutes. If you like your black tea especially strong, or you plan to take it with milk and sweetener, we recommend infusing your tea for closer to five minutes.

    Choosing a classic black tea

    No matter what kind of black tea you’re looking for, we have plenty to choose from!

    If you want: a robust, high caffeine black tea

    Hearty black teas that are high in caffeine are a great choice if you’re looking for a tea to start the day with. They’re also a great base for making tea lattes and milk tea. Indian black teas tend to be more robust than Chinese black teas. Here are our top picks for high caffeine black teas:

    • Assam Organic Black Tea: Assam is a classic black tea grown in the Assam region of India, with a full body and notes of malt and spice.
    • Irish Breakfast Organic Black Tea: Irish Breakfast is a classic breakfast blend, with finely ground tea leaves that make for a rich, bold cup of tea that goes well with milk and sweetener.
    • English Breakfast Organic Black Tea: Lighter than Irish Breakfast but still full-bodied, our English Breakfast is an aromatic blend of Ceylon, Assam, and Tanzanian black teas.
    • Ceylon Organic Black Tea: Rich, smooth, and with just a hint of spice, our Ceylon is from Koslanda, Sri Lanka’s premier region for organic teas.

    If you want: a mellow, medium caffeine black tea

    Chinese black teas are a great choice if you’re looking for black teas with a medium body, nuanced flavor, and moderate caffeine. Chinese black teas are typically produced from the camellia sinensis var. sinensis tea varietal, which has a slightly lower caffeine content than the Indian camellia sinensis var. assamica varietal. Darjeeling teas, which are grown in the Darjeeling region of India, are also produced from the Chinese varietal.

    If you want: something unique

    We carry many unique, hard-to-find black teas that stand out from the crowd. If you’re looking to expand your tea repertoire or try something new, these teas are great options.

    Choosing a flavored black tea

    In addition to classic, unflavored black teas, black tea also comes in a variety of flavored blends, from spicy to fruity and everything in between.

    If you want: a fragrant spiced black tea

    Spiced black teas are flavored with spices like ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. These blends are rich, aromatic, and go great with a splash of milk and honey.

    • Masala Chai Black Tea: This traditional chai blend includes cinnamon, cardamom, ginger root, and cloves blended with premium Ceylon tea.
    • Solstice Spice Black Tea: Solstice Spice is a holiday-inspired twist on the traditional chai blend, with apple, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, orange slices and pink pepper.
    • Chimayo Chai Black Tea: Our newest spiced tea blend, this tea features chai spices along with red chile sourced from Chimayo, New Mexico.

    If you want: an Earl Grey black tea

    Earl Grey is a popular black tea blend flavored with bergamot. We carry several different Earl Grey blends.

    If you want: a fruit-forward black tea

    Fruity black teas are flavored with fruits like apricots, peaches, oranges, and more. These teas are great hot, and also make excellent iced teas.

    • Apricot Brandy Organic Black Tea: Apricot Brandy blends black tea, apricot pieces, and natural brandy flavor for a luscious, sweet, and fruity blend that captures the spirit of late summer in Santa Fe.
    • Black Currant Black Tea: Black Currant is flavored with sweet black currants and makes for a fruity and aromatic cup of tea.
    • Ginger Peach Black Tea: Spicy and slightly sweet, this fruit-forward black tea is excellent hot or iced.
    • Orange Peel Black Tea: Orange Peel combines high quality black tea with real orange peel for a citrusy, aromatic flavored tea blend.
    • Pomegranate Lemon Organic Black Tea: This bright blend of pomegranate and lemon is equal parts sweet and tart, and it's naturally loaded with antioxidants and vitamin C.

    If you want: a creative blend

    These teas are artfully blended to create unique and creative varieties.

    • Fall Fiesta Black Tea: Fall Fiesta is our newest seasonal blend, combining black tea with pumpkin pieces, apple pieces, orange pieces, rose hips, hibiscus, calendula, sunflower petals, and cinnamon for a cozy combination reminiscent of pumpkin pie.
    • Lemon Mint Menage Organic Black Tea: This tea is a smooth organic black tea blend with bright minty notes and the refreshing taste of lemongrass.
    • Midnight Rose Organic Black Tea: This rose black tea is a smooth organic tea with a medium body and floral notes.

    If you want: a sweet, dessert-like black tea

    While these black teas don’t actually contain any sweeteners, they’re flavored with ingredients like cacao nibs that are naturally sweet. Like dessert in a cup!

    The bottom line

    From a classic English cuppa to the tea you can find at the grocery store, black tea is one of the most commonly available types of tea. Tasty enjoyed on its own or with a splash of milk and sweetener, black tea is also a great introductory tea for beginning tea drinkers. But the world of black tea extends far beyond popular breakfast blends—there’s plenty of nuance when it comes to specialty black teas, flavored black teas, and black teas from unique tea-growing regions around the world.

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