Black tea is produced from the leaves of tea plant “Camellia Sinensis”. Camellia Sinensis is a multi-stemmed slow growing shrub which matures over a period of four to six years. The leaves of this plant are plucked and processed to produce “tea”. Though there are different varieties of tea produced form it, like green tea, white, tea, oolong tea etc, it is the black tea which is known for its rich malty taste. Black tea is the most preferred breakfast drink worldwide and forms the perfect base for numerous breakfast blends like English breakfast tea, Assam tea, Keemun tea, Yunnan tea etc.
To produce black tea, tea leaves undergo a set of stages namely: plucking, withering, rolling, fermenting, drying, and grading. The tea leaves are plucked from tea gardens and sent to tea factories for processing.
The plucked leaves are then “withered” or dried to bring down the moisture content. The chemical structure off the leaf begins to undergo change and liquor like characteristics begin to emerge. In tea factories, tea leaves are dried by spreading them over mesh trays and blowing hot air over them. The leaf turns limp and is ready to withstand the next stage, which is rolling.
It is the rolling stage which decides the kind of black tea which will be finally produced. There are primarily two kinds of black tea: CTC and orthodox method. The CTC method is the mechanized process of producing tea. CTC, which means crush, tear, and curl is used to produce commercial grade black tea and is used to make teabags. The tea is cut and rolled through mechanical rollers to produce thick granular tea. Orthodox method, on the other hand, is a labor intensive method of producing teas. Orthodox black tea is laboriously handpicked and rolled under pressure to produce a twisted leaf. Rolling process breaks down the cells on the leaf surface and draws out leaf’s natural juices. These juices react with atmospheric oxygen, “oxidizing” the leaf in the process.
It is the full oxidization of the leaf which gives black tea its unique taste and flavor. The leaves are spread in well ventilated rooms and allowed to oxidize or ferment. It is during this stage that the color of the leaf changes from green to black, and hence the name black tea.
Now the leaf is “fired” or dried to halt further fermentation. This is done to preserve the tea leaf at a certain desired level of fermentation along with its characteristic flavor and aroma. The firing process reduces the moisture content in the leaf to bare minimal levels and yield a crisp leaf.
The resulting black tea is finally graded and packaged according to the size of the leaf. It is graded as whole leaf, brokens, and fanning.
Black tea can be prepared in a number of ways, each recipe yielding its unique taste nuance. The most widely followed preparation method is brewing it with milk and sugar. It gives a rich concoction with a deep malty taste. You may add cream for an even fuller flavor. Sugar may be substituted by honey for a yet another tone. In winters, you can spice up your black tea with a couple of cardamoms thrown in while brewing or a pinch of ginger powder and cloves. Adding ginger and cloves to black tea is a typical Indian style preparation, known as “masala chai”. There are some people who like their cup real strong. They brew black tea straight up without milk or cream, and add few drops of lemon and sugar syrup to it. Black tea tastes delicious with snacks like cakes, biscuits, pastries, or sandwiches.