A Brief Look at Some of the Lesser Known Black Teas

English Breakfast Blend No. 2 Tea (ETS image)
English Breakfast Blend No. 2 Tea (ETS image)

As I’ve mentioned many times in these pages I’m a big fan of black tea. While I drink other teas on occasion, these days it’s the black stuff that makes up the greatest portion of my consumption, and when I find a new tea site that’s always the first section I look at.

I’d venture to say that I’m probably like most people who drink black tea, in that I primarily drink the stuff that’s produced in the world’s major tea-growing regions. My favorite is Assam tea from India, but I’m also not averse to black teas from China and Sri Lanka. While Africa is a big player in the world of tea growing, I have to confess that this is one region whose black teas I haven’t had much experience with. But there are plenty of other black teas besides the old tried and true ones. Here are a few of them.

What’s more English than tea? They’ve even got a black tea blend – that would be English Breakfast tea – that’s named for them. But if the truth be told, the ocean’s worth of tea that the English have consumed over the years have come from somewhere else. The exception – in recent years – has been Tregothnan Estate – which is located in the western part of the country. They grow about ten tons of tea a year there, which sounds like a lot but is probably only enough to keep the nation’s tea lovers drinking for a few days or so. Currently it appears that the only black teas from Tregothnan are blended with teas from better known regions but I’d wager they’re worth a taste just for the novelty factor alone.

The Japanese are known first and foremost for their wide range of green teas, which can run the gamut from kind of blah to some of the best green teas you’re likely to ever taste. Black tea is something of a curiosity there, having been produced for a little over a century. But based on my limited experience with Japanese blacks, fans of that sort of thing are likely to find that it’s worth seeking out.

The Nilgiri region of India might be doomed to always be overshadowed by India’s other tea-growing regions. Darjeeling is arguably the best-known of these and Assam is by far the most productive. All three regions produce mostly black tea. The Assam tends to have a bold flavor often described as malty and Darjeeling is light and almost floral. In my limited experience with Nilgiri I’ve never quite been able to figure out what to compare it to but I’m always open to giving it another try.

South Carolina
The United States grows very little tea but one of the oldest and most productive gardens on these shores is the Charleston Tea Plantation in South Carolina. Much of the modest output of the tea grown there is black tea that’s blended with other varieties from farther afield, but if you’d like the straight, unfiltered stuff that’s pure American try their First Flush variety.

It’s true that Georgia is located right next to South Carolina – except when it’s not. When it comes to lesser known varieties of black tea the Georgia in question is the nation that was once located on the southwestern boundary of the former Soviet Union. While Russians drink quite a bit of tea, as far as I’m aware Georgia is the only country in that former Soviet Union that actually grows any appreciable amounts of the stuff. I have to say that I found their black tea rather weak for my tastes, but then again my experience with Georgian tea has been so limited so it’s hardly fair to judge on that basis.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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