Chinese Black Tea: Beginner's Guide to a Rich Culinary Legacy

Feb 24, 2024
Image of Chinese Black tea arranged for brewing

If you are a tea lover and love learning the stories about tea, it is essential to have a glimpse into the story of Chinese black tea. In the vast tapestry of the world's tea history, the tale of black Chinese tea shines like a rare gem. These dark and fancy-looking leaves hide a legacy dating back centuries and are really mystic to explore.
For those who genuinely appreciate black Chinese tea, let's first embark on a journey through time back to the origins of this cherished beverage. The emergence of Chinese Black tea can be traced to the early Qing Dynasty, around the 17th century. Chinese black tea also marks the origin of black tea as a core type, which was purely an accidental discovery.

A glimpse into the history

During the 17th century, green tea, white tea and oolong teas were popular beverages, and black tea was an unheard word. One tea farmer from Fujian, China, had left green tea leaves in the sunlight for a longer time as he encountered an unexpected arrival of an army troop. This extended oxidation caused the tea leaves to change into a dark red. The farmer had to "save" the tea leaves somehow, so the farmers placed the leaves in front of a flame of pinewood. This resulted in a drink that was sweet and smoky, uncommonly delicious. This happy accident marked the origin of Lapsang Souchong, the first ever black tea in tea history.
Chinese black tea, commonly referred to as "hong cha," stands out from other black tea varieties due to the meticulous art of its production. Each leaf undergoes withering, rolling, oxidation and drying processes, resulting in an infusion with a bold red hue and an array of flavours. As opposed to other black tea varieties celebrated for being bold or overpowering in flavour, Chinese black tea stands out with its delicate yet captivating taste that draws visitors.
Join us as we explore the world of Chinese black tea, understanding its varieties, flavours and brewing tips. From the earthy Keemun tea to the robust and malty Yunnan black tea, each cup of Chinese black tea is an invitation to enjoy an unmatched richness!

Varieties of Chinese black tea

Like any other black or green tea, Chinese black tea encompasses a variety of teas with distinct flavours, aromas, and characteristics. Some of the key Chinese black tea types include the following;

  • Keemun Black Tea: Keemun Tea, one of the world's premier Chinese black teas, hails from Qimen County of Anhui Province. The tea features an iconic floral-fruity fragrance with subtle smoke notes. Keemun's distinctive reddish-brown liquor can often be seen featured in English Breakfast tea blends.
  • Dianhong tea: Dianhong (also called Yunnan black tea) hails from Yunnan Province in southwestern China. The tea is made with Camellia sinensis var. assamica, a large-leaf tea. Dianhong tea boasts rich, malty flavours with golden-red liquor for an exquisite golden experience.
  • Lapsang Souchong: Lapsang Souchong is an exquisite Chinese black tea from Fujian Province's Wuyi Mountains. The tea is known for its distinctive smoky taste, achieved through drying over pinewood fires. However, Lapsang Souchong may not appeal to everyone's taste buds due to its intensely smokey characteristics.
  • Zhengshan Xiaozhong: This iconic tea is the non-smoked version of Lapsang Souchong tea. The tea features more delicate flavour characteristics reminiscent of Keemun tea, such as fruity floral notes.
  • Yixing Black Tea: Yixing black tea is a product from Jiangsu Province's Yixing region. This gentle black tea features sweet flavours like chocolate and caramel that pair nicely with its mellow yet smooth taste. This feature makes it the ideal base for creating custom blends.

These are only a few among the hundreds of Chinese black teas. Each tea variety boasts distinct flavours and production processes, offering something special for tea enthusiasts to discover. Discovering them all can be an exhilarating journey!

The flavour profile of Chinese Black Tea

Chinese black tea is known for its robust, rich and full-bodied taste, typically featuring multiple key flavour components. These may include flavours like malty character, smokiness, fruitiness, sweetness and sometimes earthiness. Teas like Lapsang Souchong are beloved worldwide thanks to their distinct smoky notes, while Keemun black tea stands out with fruity and slightly smoky notes. Moreover, Dianhong stands out with its malty sweetness - these characteristics vary depending on the cultivar growing region climate processing techniques used during harvest season!
Overall, Chinese black tea offers diverse flavours that cater to various preferences - making it an enjoyable option for anyone exploring the depths of tea culture.

The art of Chinese black tea brewing

The art of tea brewing is a must-know if you are a regular tea drinker. Brewing Chinese black tea involves a few key steps. Here's a general guide to help you get the best flavour from your tea. Remember that specific recommendations from tea producers may vary based on the type of black tea and your personal preferences.

What do you need?

Get ready with below teas and utensils to start your brewing

  • Chinese black tea leaves
  • Fresh, filtered water
  • A teapot or gaiwan (a Chinese lidded bowl for brewing)
  • Teacups or mugs
  • A timer
  • A tea strainer

Brewing Steps:

  • Measuring Tea Leaves: Use approximately 1 to 1.5 teaspoons (about 2-3 grams) of tea leaves for every 8 ounces (240 ml) of water. Add more or less tea leaves based on your taste preferences and the properties of the black tea variety you're brewing.
  • Water Temperature: Boil fresh, filtered water until it reaches boiling temperature, and then let it cool to allow the temperature to adjust naturally. Chinese black tea varieties generally perform best with temperatures between 185°F to 205°F (85°C to 96°C). The specific temperature may vary depending on the tea variety.
  • Preheating: This step is equally important. Preheat your teapot or gaiwan by rinsing it with a small amount of hot water. This helps maintain a consistent brewing temperature.
  • First Infusion: Pour the hot water over your tea leaves in a teapot or gaiwan and allow them to steep for approximately 3-5 minutes (check specific steeping time recommendations for your variety) before enjoying your first infusion. Use a timer for consistent results!
  • Pouring and Serving: Finally, pour the tea into a mug or cup. Remember to use a strainer to separate tea leaves and the brew.
  • Enjoy: Slowly sip your Chinese black tea and savour the complex flavours and aromas. It pairs well with various foods or can be enjoyed on its own.

Conclusion

In our exploration of Chinese black tea, we have explored its rich history, diverse Chinese black tea types, flavour attributes and art of brewing this sublime beverage. From Keemun tea's fruity-and-smoky notes to Yunnan Dianhong's honeyed sweetness - Chinese black tea offers an exquisite tapestry of flavours and aromas sure to tempt our senses!
The charm of this tea lies not only in its centuries-old traditions but in its ability to adapt to meet modern taste preferences. No matter whether it's your morning cup of Joe or afternoon cup of cha, there's a Chinese black tea out there to suit every palette and every preference.
So, as you embark on your tea journey, let Chinese black tea transport you to tranquil tea gardens, misty mountains and ancient traditions of this timeless craft. Enjoy an intimate moment or share tea with others!


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