A Deeper Look Into Chinese Black Tea (Hong Cha)

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What Is Red Tea?


In the west, we refer to it as "Black Tea," while the term "Hong Cha" ("Red Tea") is used in Asia. Black tea is well-known as an afternoon tea for its mellow and sweet flavor.


According to a wide-spread legend, the Wuyi Mountains in northern Fujian, China, is where black tea first developed.


Up until the mid 17th century (Late Ming, Early Qing Dynasty), the only teas widely consumed in China were green (unoxidized) and oolong (semi-oxidized) teas.


Nowadays, red tea is one of the most popular and widely produced teas in the world. However, it wasn't always this way. 


chinese red tea


The History Of Black Tea In A Nutshell


In fact, up until the 19th century, black tea wasn't widespread at all, and the only black tea in existence was a modern time favorite — Lapsang Souchong (Zhen Shan Xiao Zhong). Read more on Chinese black tea history here


For decades, even centuries, black tea was barely consumed in China. It was seen as a lesser tea and produced almost exclusively for export. Chinese black tea wasn't seen as equal within the Chinese tea market until quite recently — 2005, to be exact.

This year was when a new type of black tea was developed, known as Jin Jun Mei. What made this tea special was that it was made solely from the tea buds. A pound of this tea was sold abroad for a few thousand US dollars. This event brought the collective mindset within China to see Chinese black tea as an item of appreciation. Thus a new era of hong cha emerged. 


How Is Black Tea Made?


Unlike green tea processing, which attempts to preserve the green color of fresh tea leaves, black tea processing encourages the tea leaves to oxidize and change color from green to coppery red. This change in leaf color is referred to as oxidation.


Being fully fermented, black (or red) tea has dark leaves. It produces a deep-colored liquid, as well as tender, yet profound characteristics. 


During processing, Chinese black tea goes through the following steps:

  1. picking — the fresh tea leaves and buds are harvested
  2. wilting — tea leaves are either shaded or left in the sun to dry
  3. rolling — the tea leaves are rolled to enhance the oxidation and fermentation processes; rolling also helps release the tea leaf's natural oils
  4. fermentation — tea leaves are covered with damp cloths and left to ferment for anywhere from 2 to 10 hours
  5. baking — tea leaves are further baked in a special oven until fully dry


Black tea at peak fermentation is undeniably sweet and mellow, differing it from all the other tea types


lapsang souchong


The Most Famous Chinese Black Tea Types 


Lapsang Souchong Black Tea


The first black tea in existence was Lapsang Souchong. This smokey black tea originated in the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian province, in an area close to Tong Mu Guan. Nowadays, this area is nearly a national treasure. While foreigners are entirely prohibited from entering, Chinese citizens can come only with a special permit. This area is the birthplace of the tea, and Zhen Shan Xiao Zhong is still produced there. However, a large amount of Lapsang Souchong doesn't come from this area and is falsely marketed under its name. 


Traditional Lapsang Souchong Black Tea is made in a unique smokehouse, using the smoke from pine tree branches. Because Lapsang Souchong grows at high altitudes in a slightly northern region of China, it is one of the last Chinese teas to be harvested. Lapsang harvest dates stem into late May (Chinese tea harvest season begins as early as late February). 


Dian Hong Black Tea 


Dian Hong Black Tea is a tea from Yunnan province (same province as pu-erh tea) and is currently one of the most popular teas in China. It is loved for its thick, robust taste with a gracious floral aftertaste. The tea itself is relatively new, emerging in the late 1930s. 


Keemun Black Tea


Keemun black tea is one of the first black teas we recommend to people getting into the sublime and at times mysterious world of hong cha. Keemun black tea has an intense yet delightful fragrance of flower fields and ripe fruits incomparable to other Chinese black teas.


Keemun is the only black tea variety that is on China's Ten Famous Tea's List. 


How To Make Black Tea


You can buy our teas here. Also, don't forget to sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of this article to stay updated about new blog posts and promotions. 

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