Ask a tea drinker in the United States, Great Britain or any one of a number of other countries in the West to picture a cup of tea and they’ll probably imagine that old tried and true of the tea drinking world – black tea.
Yes, the times they are a’ changin’ and tea drinkers hereabouts are increasingly likely to branch out into other varieties, but there’s still nothing that beats a good old-fashioned cup of black tea. Take it with cream, take it with sweetener or even a squirt of lemon or just have it straight up. It’s all good. There is no correct answer.
If it is black tea that you seek, you’ll primarily be interested in varieties from one of four main tea-growing regions – India, China, Sri Lanka and Africa.
India, which grows black tea and not much else, can be further subdivided into three main growing regions. Darjeeling produces a relatively modest amount of a very fragrant and flavorful type of tea that is much in demand by tea connoisseurs. The Assam region grows massive amounts of black tea and, while some of it is single-estate tea of quite good quality, the vast majority is not nearly so exceptional. India’s third growing region, Nilgiri, is still something of an up and comer, with a black tea output that is gradually becoming better known around the world.
In China, the world’s top tea producing country, you can find pretty much any of the six main types of tea, including a number of very noteworthy black teas. Among these are Keemun, a small-leaved black that is often a component of breakfast teas; Yunnan, a black tea whose smooth flavor tends to be enhanced by the high percentage of golden tips and Golden Monkey.
The island nation of Sri Lanka, located off the southeastern coast of India, is noted for a wide range of distinctively flavored black teas, some of which can be quite outstanding. These are marketed as Ceylon tea, after Sri Lanka’s former name. In Africa, the last of the great black tea growing areas, the emphasis tends to be more on quantity than quality, but if you look hard enough you might get lucky enough to find a variety that stands out from the pack.