No tea is as diverse and full of possibilities as the black. There are just so many different kinds and styles of it, varying more with every season and region, you could spend every day of the year trying a new kind and there’ll still be more to look forward to at the end of it.
Black tea, unlike the other types, is a fully oxidized tea. The leaves are allowed to ‘brown’ to their maximum potential, in a temperature and humidity controlled environment, and the resultant tea is referred to as black. All commercially viable species of Camellia Sinensis can be made into black tea, each with its own unique chemical attributes and flavour profile.
A simple guide to understanding black tea types
Black tea is styled either in an orthodox way, where whole leaves are carefully plucked, fermented and rolled into thin wiry forms, or made into small, evenly sized, tightly rolled nuggets using the CTC technique. Making orthodox black tea is a slightly more protracted process, where attention is paid to the pluck, withering, rolling and oxidation.
Contrarily, the CTC technique is a faster way of producing black tea where heaps of leaves, irrespective of their pluck style, are all passed through multiple, large cylindrical rollers with serrated edges where they are cut, torn, and curled into evenly shaped pellets.
The key difference between an orthodox tea and a CTC tea have to do with the intent of production. When making an orthodox tea, the purpose is to bring out the unique qualities and flavour attributes of the leaf, whereas, in making CTC teas, the purpose is to optimize costs, produce large volumes and produce tea that tastes consistently the same.
etween the two, orthodox tea offers a more authentic black tea experience and is deemed more beneficial than the CTC tea. CTC tea, on the other hand, is a great value buy and offers the same, familiar tea experience every time you make a cup.
Black tea is graded to establish quality and assign an appropriate economic value to the final tea. A batch of black tea is graded on various parameters, the most important being the size of the leaf, nature of the pluck and the leaf composition.
Orange pekoe (whole leaf) is the highest graded assigned to a leaf mix which comprises of well-styled young shoots. Fannings (small leaf cuttings) and dust (post production residual matter) are the lowest grades.
Within orange pekoe, there are many sub grades, starting with SFTGFOP1– Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe One, which is the highest possible grade that can be assigned to a tea. ‘Tippy’ indicates the presence of pubescent buds and ‘Flowery’ suggests presence of plump, whole buds. Also, the addition of ‘1’ at the end of a grade indicates that the tea is superlative in its grade class.
Another way to seek out black tea varieties is to choose by season. Every season, a tea plant’s inherent chemistry undergoes changes, resulting in different tasting teas. During spring, tea plants awaken, in temperate conditions, from a long period of winter induced dormancy.
Because the plants grow slowly, the flavour compounds within the leaves grow and mature steadily, resulting in a cup tipped with delicate flavour notes. During summers, as the sun shines strong, tea plants shoot quickly, and the flavour compounds ripen fast.
Unlike a spring tea, the teas of this season tend to have fewer delicate attributes. However, they have an uncanny strong taste, juicy flavours, and a lot of richness. Assam’s best teas are grown during the summers and are distinct for their robust flavours, astringency, and rich notes of malt, wood, and nuts. Similarly, teas produced during monsoon, autumn and winter showcase unique seasonal attributes and flavours.
Must try black tea types
The best kinds of black tea are the ones that are seasonal, have evident signs of freshness, feature even looking leaves and boast significant tips in the dry leaf mix. Also enjoyable are the many popular blends of black teas that have come to be a part of the daily tea time over the many years, such as the bergamot-infused Earl Grey black tea and the English Breakfast tea – a mix of many different kinds of black teas, including an Assam.