For most of us – or at least for most of us this side of Asia – tea and black tea are almost synonymous. Though other types of tea have become more popular in the West in recent times, if someone mentions the word tea, it’s likely to conjure up an image of that old standby, the black one. And though varieties such as green, oolong and puerh may tend to be more prized by tea connoisseurs, there are those – present company included – who believe that nothing beats a cup of truly good black tea.
Though all tea is derived from the same plant – Camellia sinensis – they are processed in different ways that provide us with a total of six types – black, green, oolong, white, yellow and puerh. One of the most processed of all types, black tea leaves go through a process called oxidization that breaks down the leaves, releasing chlorophyll and tannins and giving the finished product its unique dark color and flavor.
Black tea is produced in a number of countries around the world, but for all intents and purposes the most notable of these are China, India, Sri Lanka, and a number of African countries. Much of the tea grown in Africa is of so-so quality, at best, and goes into blended teas. Teas grown in Sri Lanka are mostly of the black type and are still marketed under the name Ceylon, which is the former name of this island nation.
In Sri Lanka’s next door neighbor – India – there are three primary tea-growing regions, all of which are devoted, for the most part, to the production of black tea. Assam is the most significant of these and probably one of the world’s largest single tea-growing regions. Assam produces large quantities of lower and medium grades of tea and a much smaller quantity of high grade single estate tea. India’s Darjeeling region is primarily known for its relatively modest output of an aromatic and flavorful variety of premium tea. Nilgiri is arguably India’s least significant growing with a modest output of black tea that spans the range of quality.
Though China is probably best known for all of its other types of tea, the black tea grown there – which the Chinese sometimes refer to red tea – is worthy of mentioning. Some of the most noteworthy Chinese teas of this type include Keemun, a small-leaved variety with a faintly smoky flavor that is often a component in various breakfast tea blends. Yunnan tea is a particularly flavorful variety of black tea which is characterized by long spindly leaves. It takes its name from the Yunnan province of China, which also gives the world much of its supply of Puerh tea. Golden Monkey, though not so well known as these other Chinese black teas, is also worthy of any black tea lover’s consideration.
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