The Basics of Black Tea

There is one thing on which Char, Kat and I agree completely: there’s nothing like a cup of black tea to start a day.  The hearty blends like English or Irish Breakfast inspire one to tackle the day with gusto! On special mornings, Char would reach for an Assam, letting me know we were about to embark on an adventure. I’ve noticed Kat exploring Darjeeling tea recently, which puts her in a thoughtful mood. And while black teas run the spectrum of color, flavor, body and scent, there is one thing which unites them: the basic process that makes them a black tea, as opposed to green, or white or oolong.

Tea, true tea leaves, come from one of two species of a leafy shrub, if we want to get specific: Camellia sinensis, which is native to China, and Camellia assamica, which is native to northern India and its environs.  Most green teas and what we might find in iced tea are from sinensis leaf.  Many of the hot tea varieties are made from the assamica leaf. The fresh, green leaves are then processed to become a certain type. For black tea, that process is called oxidation. The first step is withering, which removes moisture from the leaves and softens them.  Once the leaves are withered, they are then rolled, which breaks up the surface of the leaves allowing oxygen to reach the enzymes that reside in the leaves. The black color is the result of full oxidation.

black tea

Let it be known, however, that however simple the process may sound, there are a million variations on the theme, so to speak. In the simple choice of manufacturing, be it through crushing, rolling, cutting – all of it sounds rather brutal, doesn’t it – the epic variety of results is astounding.

Isn’t that the great fun of the adventure of tea? You find the one that is so incredibly lovely, and then you discover another one that is equally lovely but completely different. And then to add to the fun is choosing how to dress it up!

Char’s morning tea was always black, as black could be. However, when invited to afternoon tea or when hosting a tea affair, she drank a black tea blend with a splash of milk and a single sugar cube. Kat, on the other hand, loves her milk and sugar. (I recently raised a fuss regarding the granules, and I’m happy to report there are cubes in the kitchen once more!)

Now there have been reports of the tea police who look down their noses at those who would add milk to their Earl Grey or swoon if you didn’t add milk to a Masala Chai, but to those beverage bullies, I say, “Pshaw!”

Pick a black tea, any black tea. Boil some water, steep the tea for 3-4 minutes, taste the result. If you feel like dressing it up, by all means do it! Discover new combinations. Drink what you enjoy!

The added benefit? Well let me just tell you.

Recently, Kings College in the UK published research regarding tea consumption. Among the findings was evidence that the flavonoids found in black tea can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and lower LDL cholesterol. In addition (and I love this!) it was found that tea hydrates the human body as effectively as water… with additional benefits.

My conclusion?

Drink more black tea, of course!

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