History of Black Tea

Until the mid 17th century during the Late Ming and Early Qing Dynasty, tea was only consumed in China and was green or oolong.

The tale is told that while a passing army entered the Fujian province, they took shelter at a tea factory.

This held up the production at the tea factory causing the tea leaves to be left in the sun.

Because the tea leaves were oxidized for longer period of time, this resulted in darker leaves.

In an effort to accelerate the drying time, they decided to smoke the leaves over pine wood creating Lapsang Souchong, which became one of the very first black teas.

 Black tea emerged in Europe in the 17th century when European explorers first reached China. 

The first documented record of tea in Europe is 1610, when Dutch merchants first brought back Chinese black tea from China, and then sold it widely all around Europe. 

In England it was at first considered a “mysterious oriental drink” and sold at very high prices that only the aristocracy could afford. 

From this beginning it became a drink that marked the well to do, and became popular as a drink to indicate your wealth and position in society.

In China, the term "black tea" was usurped by Dutch and British traders who began identifying Chinese "red teas" as "black teas" because of the color of the dry, dark leaves.

Even today Chinese "red tea" is still referred to as "black tea" in the Western world.

The robust flavor and the lifespan of the tea leaves proved to be most impressive to Westerners.

As the British demand for black tea grew, they struggled to pay for tea as the Dutch began to monopolize the industry. This motivated British traders to explore other avenues for acquiring black tea. 

After a few failed attempts, they discovered a similar genus called camellia sinensis that could be cultivated by a machine in India thus yielding a bolder crop and more lucrative return.

This catapulted the Western tea industry to a new level and reshaped our perception of the importance of black tea today.

How is Black Tea Made?

Black tea is the only tea that is fully oxidized. 

The manufacturing methods and varieties of black tea vary enormously from country-to-country and sometimes region-to-region within the same country.

Despite the differences in manufacturing, there are always four basic stages involved in the production of black tea:

1. Withering is meant to soften the leaves and reduce the moisture content inside.

The leaves are spread out in a thin layer of warm air for up to 18 hours or 55 -70% reduce moisture.

2. Rolling is the step that begins the oxidation process by breaking the leaf's cells and releasing the natural juices and chemicals. 

This is done with a rolling machine that presses and twists the leaves, rupturing the inner cells.

During the first rolling smaller pieces of leaf are sifted out and larger pieces are placed back in the rolling machine for a second, and sometimes even a third rolling.

Sometimes the leaf is put through a rotorvane machine that minces, twists, and breaks the leaf into even smaller pieces of leaf. 

3. Oxidation is the third step in which the leaf begins to develop the recognizable aroma and flavor of black tea and the darkening the color of the leaf.

The leaves are broken up following the rolling step and spread out in thin layers in cool, humid air and left to oxidize for 20 to 30 minutes or more, depending on climate and air temperature.

The final step in this process is to stop the oxidation process and dry the leaf. The leaves are placed in large, automatic dryers. 

Another method of drying is to move the tea on a stream of hot air, which reduces the moisture content of the leaf to just 2 -3 %.

This method called "Fluid Bed Dryers" blows the particles of tea on a stream of hot air, which is the most efficient ensuring that all the pieces of the leaf are evenly dried.

The CTC (cut-tear-curl) manufacturing method was developed in the 1950's in response to the ever- growing popularity of the "tea bag."

With this process the leaf is withered the same as orthodox tea, but rather than being rolled, a CTC machine is used to chop the tea into tiny pieces.

Caffeine Content in Black Tea

The amount of caffeine in tea depends upon several factors including the method and length of time brewing or steeping.

Studies also show that the leaf location on the tea plant affects content of caffeine in that tea.

The youngest leaves, highest on the plant, contain the greatest concentration of caffeine and antioxidants.

The greatest impact on caffeine content is the water temperature and length of steeping time. Black, Oolong, Green, and White tea have surprisingly similar caffeine content.

But a tea steeped for five minutes in boiling water is going to transfer a GREAT DEAL MORE caffeine to a cup of tea steeped for two minutes at 180 degrees.

It's difficult to make broad factual statements about the amount of caffeine when comparing Green Tea versus Black Tea because of the diverse varieties used, growing methods, and using new versus old leaves.

Below is a guide to the different classes of tea. 

Relatively low caffeine

Genmai Cha (Green)

Gunpowder (Green)

Hojicha (Green)

Kukicha (Green)

Keemun (Black)

Relatively high caffeine

Silver Needles (White)

Gyokuro (Green)

Matcha (Green)

Assam (Black)

Ceylon (Black)

Darjeeling (Black)

Keep in mind that because tea bags contain broken leaves of smaller size, they produce an infusion of more caffeine when compared to loose tea.

What are the health benefits of Black Tea?

  1. Black tea is enriched with antioxidants such as theaflavins, thearubigins and catechins that can help prevent certain types of cancers. 
  1. It keeps you engaged and energized, thanks to theophylline and caffeine, of course!
  1. The polyphenols in the leaf helps to protect our cells and DNA against damage.
  1. Some of the most recent studies have also pointed that antioxidants present in black tea are good for heart health; can lower risks of heart attacks and atherosclerosis (clogging in arteries).
  1. Regular consumption of black tea can also benefit people suffering from diabetes and cholesterol.
  1. Phytochemicals found in tea are linked with maintaining healthy bones and warding off risks of bone related ailments such as osteoporosis.
  1. Amino acid L-theanine helps in relaxing and revving up your concentration level.
  1. It contains alkylamine, an antigen, which helps in strengthening the immunity.
  1. Fluoride, found in black tea, helps in protecting teeth and bones.
  1. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
  1. Hydrates your skin.
  1. Promotes health and a sense of peace and well-being.