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Black Tea


Black Tea – an Accidental Invention?


Who blackened our black tea? Nobody. Exposed to humidity, freshly harvested green teaoxidises and becomes black by itself. Its leaves however need to be rolled or broken beforehand to make the essential oils leak. Some might know this process as fermentation. Same happens to a banana skin when scratched. Try it, and you can watch it turn black.
It is quite possible that black tea was discovered by accident a four hundred years ago. We imagine it like this: A Chinese tea farmer has just picked a sack full of tea leaves, puts it into a corner and forgets about it. Months later he bounces upon it and turns black with anger – as black as the content of the sack, of which he believes it is rotten. Yet, that man doesn’t want to waste a bit. He brews the leaves that are actually fermented and dried, and is delighted by this new flavour… Well, this is what it might have been like, the natal hour of black tea.


Who Drinks What and How?

 

Now it is not only that non-fermented leaves pass of as green and completely fermented ones as black tea.The passages are fluent: All that is less than halfway oxidised is to be considered as green. Hence, leaves having changed to more than fifty percent can be called black. There also is a hybrid form named Oolong, which is quite popular in China and Japan, especially as cold drink on hot days. Yet, generally people in the Far East stick to green tea – one doesn’t break up a relationship that has lasted for a 5000 years. At least in China it has been consumed that long.
As for Europe and Central Asia it is more common to drink black tea. One reason is its long shelf life: In the nineteenth century transports from the growing areas took weeks up to months – a journey that green tea often would not survive. Apart from this it is the refreshing scent and flavour caused by the essential oils which are unleashed while fermentation.
Black tea can be enjoyed in various ways. Tea drinkers in Russia or Turkey for instance favour the samowar: a boiler combined with a teapot. Water in the first, tea concentrate in the latter, the mixture makes the strength.
Whereas the West prefers the brew directly out of the pot into the cup: the British with milk or lemon, East Frisians with rock candy and cream, and those who love the mere taste, drink their black tea simply black.


The Home of the Tea

 

The region of Bordeaux stands for red whine as Darjeeling does for black tea. The district in the northeast of India is one of the most important growing areas worldwide. Here, on the southern slopes of the Himalayas the conditions are ideal for the growth of camellia sinensis – the scientific name of the probably most widespread tea plant. The special humid climate as well as a special combination of minerals in the soil give it a very special character. This again varies between the harvesting stages as they are carried out by the pickers (all women) only in the district of Darjeeling: The first flush in springtime brings out leaves of a soft flavour. Those of the summer harvest, the second flush, are darker and spicier.
Besides China the region of Assam is considered the true home of tea. Like Darjeeling it is located in Northeast India. The plant still grows wild on the largest contiguous growing area of the world, where more than six hundred gardens produce a particularly strong type.
India’s neighbour Sri Lanka is known for tea as well. This however bears the name Ceylon, as the island state was called until 1972. Perhaps quite reasonable: It has always proven successful to maintain a brand name when the company changes. Ceylon teas are of a well spiced malty flavour with a slight taste of citrus fruits.