Different black tea types available in the market:
What is Black tea?
If you follow the word ‘black’ in a literal way, then you may start wondering why this adjective is used to describe a variety of popular tea! You know that the color of tea is sometimes brown, sometimes orange or sometimes may be orange or pale yellow. But black? Impossible! You never have seen a cup of black colored tea! Even the darkest tea-leaf you ever saw was never black. Then where from on earth the word black come to describe tea?
Hence before delving deeper into different black tea types, we better make our concept clear about the word ‘black tea’. It is the tea we generally buy from the market which gives us a strong liquor with bright color. Black tea is mostly produced with the large leaf Assam variety of tea plant (the other type is the small leaf tea variety of China). Tea leaves need to pass through a complete oxidation process during its production.
What is oxidation?
It is not possible to manufacture good quality black tea without full oxidation. The process of oxidation is mainly responsible for the bright color and strong aroma of black tea. Now you may ask – what is oxidation? In simple word, it is the process that happens when something reactive is exposed to oxygen. It may be iron, it may be cut fruit or vegetable like apple or potato or it may be freshly plucked tea leaves. Due to oxidation unpainted iron without any coating, turns into rust. In case of vegetable, fruit or tea leaf, when they are cut or crushed, the cell boundaries in them break. Then the enzyme inside the cells come in contact with oxygen, the highly active component of air. This reaction viz. oxidation process makes the apple, potato or the crushed tea leaves brown.
Why oxidation is necessary to make black tea?
Depending on the production method used, we get different black tea types. During the process of oxidation, the enzymes in the tea leaves, known as polyphenols, are oxidized. This process darkens the green color of tea leaves. This deep brown color is almost near to black. That is why it is called black tea.
Most of the teas produced in the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world are black tea. It constitutes 90% of the total tea consumed in the west. Black tea is categorized into two major types – orthodox and CTC. The main appeal of black tea lies in its mesmerizing astringent flavor and bright red color. The distinctive taste, flavor and color of black tea occurs due to the presence of two types of unique flavonoids. They are the theaflavins (TF) and the thearubigins (TR) produced at the time of oxidation.
The term orthodox is used in the context of tea to indicate the traditional process of tea manufacturing. In this method, the tea may be processed manually by hand or rolled using a rolling table. In general, orthodox process of tea manufacturing is applied to most varieties of specialty teas like white, green, oolong tea, or other hand-made flowery teas. However in case of black tea, the term particularly indicates one specific category. Orthodox tea is the first variant of black tea types.
Why orthodox tea is special?
A good quality orthodox tea retains the wholeness of tea leaves. In other words manufacturing of whole-leaf black tea is possible only through orthodox method. To manufacture orthodox tea, the rolled tea leaves are first allowed to oxidize fully. Then the leaves are dried and we get orthodox tea. It is generally known for being more nuanced and complex than CTC tea. Orthodox tea comes with a flavor that has many layers. It is light, brisk and generally bright.
CTC process was invented during 1930-1931 by William McKercher. Contrary to the orthodox tea, we have the unorthodox method of tea production called CTC (Crushing, Tearing, Curling) process. As the name suggests, the CTC machines are engaged specifically to perform the CTC operation. This includes the three steps of Crushing, Tearing, and Curling. In the end we get the granular leaf particles of tea that come in different sizes.
The tea is graded into three main categories according to the size of the grains. They are known as brokens, fannings, and dust. The brokens come with the largest sized grains. The dusts on the other hand are the finest particles of black tea. They are found after a progressive sieving process. The size of the fannings grade tea comes in between the brokens and the dusts. The smaller sized grains in the CTC tea offer a larger combined surface area compared to the orthodox. This allows the CTC tea to brew quicker. Thus we can get a full bodied stronger cup more quickly from the CTC tea than the orthodox. This is the reason why most tea bags are made with dust grade CTC teas.