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.
Teas grown in various regions of Sri Lanka are called Ceylon. Though the flavor of the tea is often described as strong and brisk, the teas may vary significantly depending on where they grow. The climate of Sri Lanka's many tea gardens range from cool and mountainous to humid and tropical. Those black teas grown at a higher elevation tend to be lighter in color and milder in flavor, while black teas grown at lower elevation tend to be a darker, with a reddish-orange color and bolder tasting notes.
Keemun tea comes from the Anhui province, China. Though still described as malty, the flavor of the resulting tea tends to be lighter with a sweet finish. This specific black tea often yields cups with stone fruit flavors and is slightly smoky. The resulting brew is sometimes even described as containing hints of cocoa. Keemun is the most popular of black teas produced in China.
These are just a few of the more popular black teas consumed around the world. Remember, though black teas tend to be darker in color and bolder in flavor than other types of tea, the flavor profiles of each tea may vary significantly. The region in which the tea was grown, what crops were near the tea plants, the variation in climate during the growing season, etc. may all impact the flavor of the resulting cup of tea in the end. We invite you to try a few of these different types of black tea and explore the resulting diverse range of colors and flavors in your steeped cup of tea.