Updated: Dec 18, 2021
Black teas are often attributed specific names depending upon the region where the tea plants are grown and the resulting tea leaves produced.
What is black tea?
Black tea, like all teas, comes from the Camellia sinensis plant. Black tea leaves differ from their green, white, and oolong counterparts due to the level of oxidation in the leaves. Once plucked from the tea plant, the leaves begin to oxidize, and the oxidation is only halted once heat is applied. To be considered a black tea, the leaves must be 80% or more oxidized. In order to achieve near full oxidation more quickly, tea producers often macerate, tumble, or roll the leaves.
As the oxidation in the leaves occur, the level and content of polyphenols change. Black tea tends to have more thearubigins and theabrownins than other types of tea. The result is darker leaves, which often yields a reddish brown liquid once steeped. The taste of the cup is often described as malty, fruity, and sometimes smoky as well.
Where is black tea from?
Though tea plants are now grown around the world in many different climates and regions, most of the more common teas you would drink come from Southeast Asia. Today, there are hundreds of cultivars and hybrid plants based on the Camellia sinensis plant. However, there are two main, or more popular, cultivars from which our tea leaves are harvested: Camellia sinensis sinensis and Camellia sinensis assamica.
Native to China, the Camellia sinensis sinensis plant yields smaller leaves and is typically used to make white or green tea. The plant itself is more tolerant to the cold and tends to grow in dry, sunny regions. This plant is often found in China, Japan, and Taiwan.
Having originated in Northern India, the Camellia sinensis assamica plant yields larger leaves typically used to make black tea. The plant thrives in subtropical forests and does well in warm, moist climates. The leaves are great for yielding the maltier, stronger cups of brew that black tea is known for. This plant is often grown in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Argentina.
What's in the name?
Some of the most popular black teas in the world are often named after the region in which the tea leaves are grown and produced.
The Assam region in India has a rainy, tropical climate and is home to the largest tea-growing region in the world. The Camellia sinensis assamica plant got its name from the Assam region, as this is where the plant originated. Most likely due to British influence, Assam black teas are often used in breakfast and other common flavored blends, like English Breakfast and Earl Gray. The malty, bold flavor holds up to the addition of milk and sugar.
From another region in the country of India, we get Darjeeling. The name is reserved for teas grown on specific plantations that meet several criteria to earn the Darjeeling label, including location and altitude. The resulting flavor profile of the tea is often described as softer and more floral, sometimes spicy.