Taking Black Tea Seriously

Is black tea the Rodney Dangerfield of the tea world? One could make that argument. Dangerfield, you may recall, was a popular comedian best known for his self-deprecating humor and the catchphrase, “I don’t get no respect.”

Black tea in a fine breakfast blend
Black tea in a fine breakfast blend

So why doesn’t black tea get the respect it sometimes deserves? Unless you’re in Asia or a few other select regions, when someone says tea the first thing that probably springs to mind is the old tried and true — black tea. Tea-drinking habits have been changing in recent times, but this is still the old standby, one that’s often doctored with milk, sugar, or perhaps a splash of lemon. Here in the good old USA, it most often comes in iced form, with a whopping dose of sugar.

Which is all fine but, if the truth be told, black tea is often the sort of beverage that needs milk, sugar, lemon and whatever else to make it palatable, because it isn’t always that good. Even today, if you go to your local grocery store, you’ll notice that the majority of the cheaply priced tea is…you guessed it. When it comes to tea, as with many things in life, you get what you pay for. In the case of black tea that sells at a dollar for ten thousand bags (or whatever) that means not so tasty dust and fannings, which is the bottom of the tea barrel.

If you’ve fallen into a deep despair as you read this, assuming that all hope is lost for black tea, guess again, Darjeeling breath. As something of a cheerleader for black tea, I never tire of reminding people that there is truly great black tea available, though you’re probably not going to find it in your local grocery store.

Some of the more notable black teas include the aforementioned Darjeeling, an Indian variety that’s sometimes referred to as the champagne of tea. Also from India, Assam tea. Much of this is admittedly of inferior or so-so quality, but you don’t have to look too hard to find really great single-estate Assam tea.

Black teas from Sri Lanka are still referred to as Ceylon, the former name of this island nation that sits next door to India. Ceylon tea can also be a bit of a crapshoot but there are definitely some great ones to be had. Last but not least, is black tea from that other great tea-producing nation — China. Some of the better varieties of Chinese black tea are the slightly smoky Keemun, Golden Monkey and Golden Yunnan, a variety often distinguished by the large percentage of golden tips that help make it so flavorful.

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3 thoughts on “Taking Black Tea Seriously

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