Black Tea - Types, Flavour Profiles, and Regions

Black Tea – Types, Flavour Profiles, and Regions

Tea ranks second only to water as the most consumed beverage on the planet.

Black tea is one of the most often consumed forms of tea. People love a cup of black tea to start the day or at afternoon tea time all across the world, from Moscow to London to Cairo to Mumbai. Many different regions produce black tea, and each one has its distinct qualities and flavours. Let’s look at various types of black tea and see how to distinguish them apart.

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Types of Black Tea

Due to the numerous varieties of tea and wine, as well as the regions, cultivars, and other factors that each relies on to generate their variances, we always want to compare the two. For example, red wine, like black tea, has hundreds of types, and the place of origin has a big role in distinguishing it from other wines of the same sort. Aromas, notes, tastes (varying from malty to sweet to savoury), and texture (some lighter, some more strong) can all differ across black teas. The brewing technique one employs plays a huge influence in unlocking and discovering a tea’s taste. However, the methods of tea cultivation differ from place to place.

Camellia Sinensis var. Sinensis (or Chinese tea plant) and Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica is used to make black tea (or Assamese tea plant). The changes in flavour aren’t as noticeable between the two, but the leaf forms and sizes, as well as the climates in which they grow, are. The Assamese tea plant thrives in tropical and hot regions, whereas the Chinese tea plant thrives in colder temperate settings. The type of cultivar, environment, temperature, and altitude in which the plant grew, as well as the processing methods utilised, are all elements that influence the flavour of the tea. As previously stated, for the optimum growth outcomes, cultivar and temperature generally act in combination. For example, in Korea, black tea is most likely made from Chinese tea bushes, but in Sri Lanka, Assamese tea reigns supreme.

As previously stated, altitude has a significant impact on the flavour of tea plants. Tea plants thrive at higher elevations because they are exposed to greater rainfall, humidity, precipitation, soil with adequate minerals and drainage, and a consistent cloud cover that protects them from sunburn. The more a plant is grown higher up, the more intricate the final tea will be. However, this does not imply that tea cultivated at low elevations is insipid. The time when the leaves are plucked during the harvest is another important influence on the quality and flavour of a tea. The earlier in the season (spring), the sweeter, more delicate, and wonderful it is. It also helps if the leaves are pulled from higher on the plant. The way the tea is processed can also affect how it tastes.

Brewing Processes

Diverse brewing techniques can also bring out different qualities in tea. For example, the quantity of tea to water varies depending on whether you brew ‘Western-style’ or ‘Gong Fu-style,’ which might result in distinct properties from the same tea. All of these variables might change depending on personal tastes, so use them as a starting point and experiment to see what you like. The temperature of the water has a significant impact on the flavour profile of the tea. This is crucial for astringency control. Astringency is the mouth-puckering sensation that some teas, fruits, and foods produce. It’s certainly not a negative thing, but how you manage it is a personal choice. Astringency in tea is caused by a substance called catechins (antioxidants). Catechins are released gradually at colder temperatures and swiftly at boiling temperatures because numerous chemical components in the tea leaves extract at different rates and temperatures. To minimise the astringency of a tea, lower the water temperature at which it’s brewed. Now, let’s have a look at some of the major black tea producing regions and some of their most popular black tea varieties:

China

This is a fantastic area for black tea! Fujian, particularly around the Wuyi mountain area, produces the majority of Chinese black tea. Chinese black teas are frequently described as having an exceptional amount of sweetness and smoothness, as well as some smokiness.
  • Jin Jun Mei

    This is a high-quality black tea leaf. Jin Jun Mei's exceptional quality can be attributed to its leaves consisting only of buds plucked early in the spring harvest. This tea has a smooth texture and a sweet honey-like and fruity flavour. What about the lingering flavour? From beginning to end, it's also quite nice. It's a relatively new tea that was designed in 2006, went into production in 2007, and quickly became China's most costly black tea.

  • Keemun

    This fantastic tea, also known as Qimen Hongcha, comes from Qimen County in Anhui Province and is regarded as one of China's most famous teas. Keemun comes in a variety of flavours (Congou, Mao Feng, Xin Ya, etc. ), but they all have a fruity scent with hints and notes of dried plum, pine, and floral waves, as well as a slight smokiness and toastiness. It has a mild astringency, and some varieties have taste profiles that are similar to Burgundy wines as well as chocolate. Keemun leaves are gathered throughout the spring and summer.

  • Lapsang Souchong

    This well-known tea is dried over pinewood fires, imparting a smokey, piney flavour to the leaves, with paprika undertones and even whiskey-like hints thrown in for good measure. Although the perfume is robust and noticeable from afar, it has a smooth finish, a pleasant aftertaste, and no bitterness. It comes from the Fujian province of China's Wuyi Mountains.

    There's also a non-smoked, a newer variety that's somewhat woody, contains undertones of roasted yam and berries, and chocolate, and tastes rich but not astringent.

India

Across the board, Indian black teas have some intriguing characters. Some are so tough and powerful that it’s no surprise that the Masala Chai was created! Others have a fruity, flowery, malty, or velvety sweet flavour. Even black teas with vegetable and malty taste aromas are available. Indian black teas are full of surprises, but with so many different climates, altitudes, and terroirs to raise tea plants in, it’s no surprise that these leaves have distinctive flavours.
  • Assam

    This tea is grown in the lowlands of Assam, the same state where the Assamese tea plant was discovered. The Assam area is located in northern India, and its tea is rich, full-bodied, and has a malty, aromatic flavour. Since it is less astringent than other black teas, it pairs nicely with milk. It's robust and earthy, which is why it's one of the most popular black teas for Masala Chai bases. It's also great for mixing since it gives other lighters, more aromatic teas more body.

  • Nilgiri

    This black tea is grown in the hills and mountains of India. This gives it a distinct flavour when contrasted with its Assamese lowland relative. Nilgiri black tea has a bright colour, and a mild flavour but is a full-bodied cup, with a distinct fragrant scent. It's halfway between the robust Assam and the delicate Darjeeling. Its fruity undertones and milder flavour make it an excellent basis for tea mixes with flavourings and fruits.

  • Darjeeling

    It would be incorrect to describe Darjeeling's flavour without noting the region's location. This high-altitude location, which produces great teas, has strong weather, considerable rainfall, and plenty of sunlight. The plants must adapt to flourish in harsh weather and at high altitudes, which results in a unique tea. The flavour of Darjeeling changes according to the season in which it is grown. Darjeeling's first flush is harvested from the middle of March till the spring rainy season begins. Darjeeling from the first flush is light, flowery, and bright, with overtones of ripe or green fruit and astringency. Darjeeling's second flush is harvested in June. This 2nd flush harvest yields a full-bodied tea with a wine-like taste. It's commonly referred to as 'muscatel,' and it's fruitier, with woody undertones and touches of chocolate. Some individuals find 1st flush Darjeeling too astringent, therefore brew it at 190-195 F for 2-3 minutes to minimise the astringency and appreciate the complexity. You'll detect flowery notes and a light fragrance.

Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan black tea is one of the most identifiable and appealing black tea varieties available. Sri Lankan black teas have a powerful, bold, and crisp taste with citrus and spice undertones. This country produces black tea in seven separate growing zones, each with its profile due to its varying heights. Teas cultivated in the Highlands feature delicate and sweet tones, but teas grown in the lowlands are more robust.
  • Nuwara Eliya

    One of Sri Lanka's most well-known tea-growing regions. At a height of almost 6,000 feet above sea level (the highest location in average elevation) and mild temperatures, the tea plants develop slowly. As a result, the tea has a delicate and beautiful smell, light liquid, and floral undertones, making it an uncommon and high-quality tea.

  • Kandy

    Kandy tea is recognised for being delicious and grown in a mid-elevation. The flavour of these teas varies based on the plantation's altitude and exposure to monsoon winds. Kandy teas are full-bodied and delicious, with strong malty notes.

Nepal

Tea production began in the late 1800s with high-altitude plantations, and it is frequently likened to Darjeeling teas since some eastern zones of Nepal have comparable geology and topography. Most Nepali teas have traditionally been processed into low-cost black tea grades for home consumption and export to the Indian commodities market. The highest-quality leaves were sold in India, where they were branded and sold as Darjeeling tea. Nepalese teas have a flowery flavour to them and are not astringent. They have a lot of flavours but aren’t overpowering. Early spring leaves are processed as a light 1st flush, yielding a delicate, subtle, yet complex tea, whilst more mature leaves harvested later in the season yield a fruity, robust 2nd flush. There’s also the Monsoon flush, which yields a darker, fuller-bodied tea, and the Autumn flush, which yields a lighter tea with floral, muscatel, and citrus notes, comparable to the 2nd flush.

Kenya

While many people identify tea farming with Asia, Kenya produces some of the world’s finest teas and is one of the world’s major tea exporters. Kenya’s topography and temperature are ideal for growing some of the world’s most remarkable tea plants. Together with Kenya’s temperature and rainfall, volcanic soil offers elevation, adequate porous soil for drainage, and minerals for the plants, resulting in a large and booming tea production zone.

CTC (crush, tear, curl) is the most common technique for processing black tea in Kenya. Much of the leaf’s inherent taste, complexity, and depth is lost as a result. CTC makes a low-quality, mass-produced tea that is commonly used as a filler in tea bags. That isn’t to argue that Kenyan black tea isn’t tasty on its own. Kenyan black tea is a powerful, full-bodied tea that is comparable to Assam black tea and will undoubtedly wake you up in the morning. It’s a milky tea that tastes great. A tiny amount is also processed using traditional methods and sold as speciality single-origin tea across the world. As they are grown at higher elevations, certain black teas are also slightly lighter, more complex, and aromatic.

Malawi

Malawi’s second-largest export is tea, with black tea accounting for 90% of output. It has been cultivating tea professionally since the early twentieth century. The tea growers have sought to introduce newer and stronger clonal plants to help ease Malawi’s variable weather patterns, which may make tea-growing challenging at times. Malawi used to be known for its CTC teas, which were treasured for their vivid colour and rich flavour and were used to improve the quality of tea bags, but recently, some producers in the Thyolo region have begun to make orthodox black tea as well as other unique and speciality teas. Malawian black tea has a rich, full-bodied flavour with malty and fruity overtones.

Taiwan

While Taiwan’s oolong teas are generally the stars of the show, the country’s black tea is also outstanding. Consider Ruby 18, a product of the Tea Research Institute. Ruby 18 is a cross between a Taiwanese wild cultivar and Assam tea bushes from Burma. Ruby 18 has an intriguing flavour profile that includes malty notes, cinnamon overtones, and even a minty aftertaste. It has a substantial body and is rich. It’s a difficult tea to come by because the supply doesn’t even satisfy domestic demand, and the tea isn’t mass-produced in large quantities.

Japan

Although it is most renowned for its exquisite and refined green teas, Japan also produces black teas (Wakoucha). In the last 20-30 years, there has been a surge in interest in growing and producing black tea. Instead of attempting to emulate other sources for its black tea, Japan concentrates on cultivating its varietals. Orthodox black teas have a taste profile that includes earthiness, umami, and sweetness, as well as gentle, elegant, and flowery characteristics. They are less astringent and have a lighter body than Indian or Sri Lankan black teas.

South Korea

Hadong County is one of Korea’s most important tea-growing regions, producing black teas (Balhyocha). The elevation and closeness to Mount Jiri, as well as the temperature, humidity, rainfall, and sea-fed soil, provide ideal growing conditions. Korean black tea has chocolate or vanilla aromas, traces of nuttiness, sweet fruits, jam, and honey, and is complex, mellow, and buttery. It’s a real treat that’s hard to come by, and only a few tea businesses carry it, so if you find it, grab it!
Argentina, Colombia, Vietnam, New Zealand, and the United States are some of the other tea-growing regions worth mentioning. We recommend that you look around and sample some of their teas! This highly oxidised type of the Camellia Sinensis plant has unique characteristics depending on where it is grown. Trying as many different kinds of tea as possible is the greatest approach to learning about it. Taste them several times, comparing them side by side by location, or cross-tasting black teas from various origins.

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