Black tea is a variety of tea that is more oxidized than the oolong, green, and white varieties. All four varieties are made from leaves of the shrub (or small tree) Camellia sinensis. Black tea is generally stronger in flavor and contains more caffeine than the less oxidized teas. Black tea's caffeine is approximately 3 %, which is the highest of all the different kinds of tea, but still lower than coffee. While green tea usually loses its flavor within a year, black tea retains its flavour for several years.
To make black tea, the first step after plucking the leaves is to let them wither. Then there are three additional processing steps that the leaves are subjected to before becoming black tea. They are rolled, allowed to fully oxidize (ferment), and lastly they are dried. Also note, that after rolling, they are also sifted to separate the different leaf / leaf particle sizes.
- Rolling - The purpose of this step is to actually break open the surface of the leaves. This allows the remaining moisture, sap, if you will, in the leaves to escape and coat the surface of the leaves. This sap is what contains the polyphenols (formerly known as "tannins").
- Oxidation - When exposed to the air (oxygen) and under controlled conditions of heat and humidity, some of the polyphenols are oxidized ("fermented") by an enzyme called polyphenol oxidase. These then combine with other poyphenols to form compounds called theaflavins, which gives the leaves a bright coppery red color. Likewise, the theaflavins react with other compounds to form thearubigins. These ultimately render the leaves their final dark brown / black color. The theaflavins are associated with the "brisk" flavor and brightness of black tea, whereas the tea's strength and color are attributed to the thearubigins. At the completion of the oxidation (usually a few hours), the aroma of the leaves also changes from a "leafy" smell to a "fruity" one.
- Drying / Firing - Finally they are dried / fired, which stops the oxidation process. It also turns the leaves to their characteristic black color.
Scientists have found that both black and green teas have 8-10 times the amount of antioxidants as most fruits and vegetables. Antioxidants are powerful health booster that fights free radicals in the body. Since dieters and nutritionists generally tout the wonders of the antioxidants in foods like carrots and blueberries, (and wines, where antioxidants from grapes are preserved), the health power of green and black tea varieties should be evident. Besides being rich in these health-promoting elements, black tea has other 'medicinal' or diet-related uses.
- Healthy Heart - Another way the elements in all sorts of teas work for your body is in promoting good heart health. Similar studies show black and green teas as preventing some kinds of arterial damage.
- Strong Bones - Research has shown that people who drink black tea on a regular basis have a greater bone density than those who do not. For this reason, one of the other benefits of black tea may be the offset of osteoporosis and relief from arthritis.
- Caffeine - Because of the production of black tea, it is highest among all other tea types in caffeine levels. Caffeine stimulates brain function and infuses the body with energy. Metabolism is boosted and this helps dieters to lose weight.
- Cancer Inhibitor - Because of its antioxidants, the use of black tea and other tea varieties has been linked to a lower risk of certain cancers, including skin cancer, as well as a lesser risk of diabetes.
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Brewing Guide: The amount of tea you use is more of a personal preference. It is important to remember that the more you use, the stronger the taste will be. When attempting black tea brewing, first examine the quality of the water. Water with excessive minerals, or various contaminates, does not make a good cup of tea. You may want to use distilled water for a better result. Due to the potency and robust qualities of the black tea leaves, you want to heat water to about 91-95 degrees Celsius (or to a boil). Black tea can stand exposure to very hot water, and when infused, it releases its flavor for a great cup of tea. The hot water should be added directly to leaves already in a container.
Let the mixture steep for two to four minutes. If the tea is not steeped long enough, you may still get a dark color, but the taste will be weaker than you would expect. On the other hand, leaving the tea leaves in too long will make the tea taste too strong or even bitter.
Lots of tea drinkers add milk or lemon to their teas. If this is the case, you may want to steep your black tea an extra minute or so to compensate for the dilution.