What is Black Tea? If you’ve spent any amount of time around the Sweet Tea Junkie brand whether browsing our website or hanging out with us at any of the many events we attend throughout the year then you likely know that we offer a variety of premium teas, including our signature blend, which is appropriately named Handcrafted Black Tea.
When we think of “tea” in the United States, and more importantly “Sweet Tea in the South” it is almost always black tea that we are actually referring to whether we know it or not. One of the most recent estimates given by the Tea Association of the United States (and with a name like that I’d guess they know tea) states that black tea accounts for about 84% of all of the tea consumed in the United States. That equals out to somewhere around 3 BILLION gallons of black tea consumed annually in the US.
So with the details out of the way we can get to answering the question at hand… what is black tea? For the answer you first need to know that all tea comes from the same plant, we cover this more in depth in our “where does tea come from” lesson. When we realize that all tea varieties whether they be a white tea, black tea, green tea, or any number of others come from the same plant the confusion surrounding tea begins to become manageable! Yes, there is hope for you. Trust me, when I first began research into starting our own line of Premium Handcrafted Teas here at Sweet Tea Junkie all I knew was that I liked Sweet Tea.
To start, tea leaves are harvested from the camellia sinensis plant either by hand or by machine. Generally tea that is harvested by hand will result in a higher quality final product as the leaves are plucked more precisely by hand than machine. Once harvested, the leaves go through a withering process which is accomplished by placing them either in the direct sun or indoors in a room with good air circulation. During the withering process the leaves will lose about 25% of their weight due to the natural loss of moisture. If you’ve ever pulled a leaf off of a plant and came back to it a few hours later you know what the withering process is all about!
Once withering has finished, the most important step for black tea begins which is the Oxidation stage. Black tea is the most oxidized of all tea varieties, and the easiest explanation for oxidation is the darkening of the tea leaves from green to black (think of an apple that begins to brown once cut or bitten into, that is oxidation). This is a controlled process and is a key part of the final flavor and color of the brewed tea itself, although each of the processes will create various nuances in the final flavor. Once the leaves have reached their optimum oxidation the process is halted by slightly heating/drying the leaves.
The next step is Rolling/Shaping, as you can see most of this is pretty self explanatory. In this step the still damp leaves are rolled to create the familiar shape that you’ll find with all loose leaf teas. This process can be done by hand or by machine.
To finish the process, the tea leaves go through a final drying which finishes off the entire process.
So, to summarize What is Black Tea? It is the most oxidized of all tea varieties which gives it it’s dark/black color, and is the most popular form of tea consumed in the United States with about 84% of all tea consumed being black tea. Enjoy our little infographic below.