When many of us started drinking tea, we were only drinking black tea. Quite honestly, I didn’t even know what KIND of black tea. It was black. It made a slightly bitter cup. It came in a tea bag. That was tea. I’m happy to say that I’ve learned a good bit about tea since then.
Let’s look at some of the black teas you are most likely to encounter in your early tea journeys and explore their origins.
Assam tea hails from the state in northeastern India of the same name. In 1823, a 60-foot high wild tea plant was found in Assam. Now, more than 50% of all Indian tea is grown here on more than 2,000 tea gardens. This tea is considered to be strong, brisk, and malty.
Ceylon is the name for tea grown in Sri Lanka. In the 1860s, Sri Lanka’s coffee industry was destroyed due to a rust fungus. In the 1870s, efforts were made to grow tea as a replacement industry and it was very successful. There are six major tea regions in Sri Lanka which you may hear by name: Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula, Kandy, Uva, Ruhuna, and Uda Pussellawa. Some cite a slightly citrusy flavor to the tea, but the tastes differ between regions.
Darjeeling is a town in northeastern India in the state of West Bengal. Tea has been grown in this region since the mid-1800s. This black tea is called the “Champagne of Tea.” Darjeeling is noted for its muscatel flavor.
Keemun tea is from Qimen County in China’s Anhui Province. This black tea has been produced in the country since the late 1800s. It is often included in breakfast blends as its flavor is relatively mild. Some call Keemun the “Burgundy of China Teas” for its wine-like notes.
This black tea from China’s Wuyi region (Fujian Province) is known for its smoky flavor. The tea is prepared over fires made with pine, giving a bold and distinct flavor.
The black teas from Nepal share some commonalities with the Indian Darjeelings, although they have not reached the same level of acclaim.
Yunnan tea hails from the Yunnan Province of southern China. The “ancient tea trees,” trees that are more than 800-years-old, grow in this region. They are considered “living fossils.” The U.S. Department of the Interior states that there are trees there up to 2,700 years old. Yunnan’s strong, malty flavor is admired by many.
Other black teas you might encounter will hail from Kenya, Malawi, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Countries such as Argentina, produce vast quantities of black tea as well, but primarily for blending in tea bags or for iced tea blends.