About Black Teas (Hong Cha) [+]
What we call "Black Tea" in the West is called "Red Tea" in Asia (红茶 – "Hong Cha" in China). Hong cha is a popular afternoon tea, thanks to its mellow and sweet flavor. Despite common misconception, quality Chinese black tea doesn't have so much caffeine in it — in general, about 10% of a cup of coffee. However, this will vary by the type of hong cha.
Nevertheless, hong cha is a great energizing tea that helps you focus, providing a calm, creative energy flow.
The processing methods of black tea vs green tea are ultimately different. While during green tea processing, farmers attempt to preserve the green color and qualities of fresh tea leaves, they encourage the hong cha tea leaves to change color from green to coppery red. We call this change oxidation.
Fully oxidized hong cha has dark tea leaves. The resulting tea color is deep, varying from golden amber to a reddish-brown. The tea is tender with profound characteristics.
Most hong cha brews best at water temperatures of around 195ºF (90ºC).
Black Tea History
According to the common consensus, black tea originates in the Wuyi Mountains in northern Fujian, China.
Up until the late Ming Dynasty (mid 17th century), people in China mostly drank steamed green tea. It wasn't before that time tea people invented black cha as we know it today.
Nowadays, hong cha is one of the most popular and widely produced teas globally. However, it wasn't always this way.
Until the 19th century, black tea wasn't popular in China. The only type of this tea that existed at the time was a modern favorite — Lapsang Souchong (正山小种 – Zhen Shan Xiao Zhong). Furthermore, this tea traveled well and was a customary trade item.
Indeed, in China, farmers only produced hong cha for export, as it traveled well and had a longer shelf-life than the local favorite green tea. At the same time, Chinese people saw it as a lesser tea that wasn't worth local consumption. It all changed relatively recently, in 2005.
The Rise Of Chinese Black Tea
In 2005 Chinese tea farmers produced a new type of hong cha, which they called Jin Jun Mei. So what was so special about this Asian tea? First of all, they produced it solely from the tea buds. Not that this practice was entirely new. However, the taste was quite mesmerizing. So mesmerizing that a pound of this tea's cost abroad was a few thousand US dollars. The rumor spread like wildfire, and local Chinese tea producers began appreciating the beauty of black tea from that moment onward. A new era of hong cha emerged, with dozens of new delicious Chinese black tea varieties hitting the local market.
Processing of Tea: Chinese Black Tea
As we mentioned before, the ultimate goal of black tea processing is to oxidize the tea, making it a beautiful coppery red color. The processing steps to achieve a mellow and honey-sweet hong cha are as follows:
• picking — farmers harvest the fresh leaves and tea buds.
• wilting — they shade the tea leaves or leave them to dry in the sun.
• rolling — tea farmers roll the leaves to activate the oxidizing enzymes and release excessive moisture and the natural oils of the tea leaves.
• oxidation — the tea farmers leave the tea leaves to oxidize. This step can last anywhere from 2 to 10 hours long.
• baking — finally, farmers bake the tea leaves in a special oven until fully dry.
At peak oxidation, hong cha is undeniably sweet and tender. If you wish to taste tea, you'll notice Chinese black tea has bright notes of honey, malt, chocolate, and sweet potatoes. Some teas have a tad of a lingering sourness, with scents of fruits and floral bouquets.
Hong Cha: Which Is The Top Tea?
Of course, the best tea for you will always depend on your taste. However, here are some of the most popular black teas, with a brief explanation of what do they taste like:
Lapsang Souchong. Indeed, smoky Lapsang Souchong is not everyone's cup of tea. However, its bold and unforgettable flavor profile put it into the top ranks for many. According to legends, Lapsang Souchong is the first black to exist. It comes from the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian Province — the birthplace of all tea. Farmers process the tea leaves in unique houses called Qing Lou (青楼). The process includes a stage of drying over pine trees. The resulting taste is indeed very smoky with a pronounced pinewood scent. The brew is very balanced with a pleasant sweetness. When drinking a quality Lapsang Souchong tea, you'll notice its smokey profile lasts to the very end of the tea ritual, throughout multiple brews.
There is also a delicious alternative to this tea — Non-Smoky Lapsang Souchong, for those who wish to drink a cup of hong cha that's not as smokey this day or that.
Dian Hong Black Tea. Dian Hong Black Tea (滇红) is a tea from Yunnan province (the home province of pu-erh) and is currently one of the most popular teas in China. Tea enthusiasts love Yunnan black tea for its thick, robust taste and warm floral aftertaste. The tea itself is relatively new, emerging in the late 1930s.
Keemun Black Tea. Keemun black tea (祁门红) is one of the first black teas we recommend to people getting into the sublime and, at times, mysterious world of hong cha. It has an intense yet delightful fragrance of flower fields and ripe fruits incomparable to other Chinese black teas. Not to mention, Keemun is the only black tea variety on China's Ten Famous Tea's List. It is also the only Chinese hong cha included in the list of the world's four most fragrant black teas!
Lychee Tea. Gong Fu Lychee Black Tea (荔枝红茶) is another famous but relatively rare tea. Its origin is Southern China (mainly Guangdong and Fujian). Both fresh and dried lychee get smoked at low temperatures for a fair duration of time for its production. Gong Fu black tea leaves are incorporated during this process to absorb the mellow aroma and entire natural sweetness remnants of the adjacent lychee fruit. This tea is loved thanks to its strong tropical fruit taste and sweetness.
Jin Jun Mei. Jin Jun Mei tea (金骏眉) also originates in Tongmu Village, in Wuyishan, Fujian. Its vertiginous price is because the whole production process is hand-made. Every 500g of Jin Junmei needs tens of thousands of fresh tea buds, picked in Wuyi Mountain Nature Reserve. The final product is a rare tea treasure with tiny, golden velvety leaves. The tea soup is golden yellow with a sweet and refreshing entrance and signature flowery fragrance.
Does Tea Go Bad?
An utmost prevalent question — can tea go bad? Our answer is always — yes, it most certainly can! Of course, this is not in the same way that food spoils. To clarify, your tea leaves won't give you food poisoning or get covered in mold. However, storing loose tea leaves past their expiry date will likely result in a bland brew with zero taste and void of any tea benefits.
How Long Does Tea Last?
How long does loose leaf tea last? Our answer is simple — this always depends on the type of tea. However, here's a quick guide:
- Green and yellow tea - you should consume these fresh teas within a year of harvest.
- White tea, oolong tea, black tea, pu-erh, and hei cha - you can store them for multiple years and even age them for longer.
Is Black Tea Acidic?
Many tea drinkers, new and seasoned, ask about the acidity of tea (pH of tea). Each tea type has a different pH level. For example, the pH of black tea is around 5. On the other hand, green tea is more alkaline with a pH of 7-10. In general, loose leaf tea leans towards the alkaline side and is not acidic.
Tea Producing Countries
Tea originated in China, however now you can find tea farms in practically every country. Of course, some countries are leaders when it comes to tea production.
While China produces 43% of the world's tea overall, it doesn't come close in terms of solely black tea production. Chinese black tea remains a specialty tea. While the top black tea producing countries are:
- Sri Lanka
These countries have hot temperatures and good soil for growing black tea. Unfortunately, hot climates have their downsides when it comes to tea production. This is why these teas are usually bitter and astringent, with little to say in terms of complex flavor profiles. These are the teas that you usually can't imagine consuming without a big splash of milk and sugar, making the world's popular milk tea.
No More Milk Tea
Drinking sweet milk tea became a beloved tradition in Europe. However, did you know that the only reason people started adding sugar and milk to their black tea was to disguise its lousy taste? The bad taste of brewed black tea is a common sign of old tea leaves, resulting in a bitter or simply tasteless drink.
The thing is, with craft tea, you won't even want to add milk! Just give some premium tea a try, like Chinese hong cha. You will notice it is already sweet and possesses a bouquet of flavors. We guarantee you won't want to hide these beautiful notes with sugar, milk, or anything else.