When most people in the West think of Tea, the image conjured is almost undoubtedly Black Tea. Why? Because from England to America; France to Australia, Black Tea is the most common type of Tea drunk in the western hemisphere. And it’s popularity is increasing at a rapid rate as more and more people are introduced to this remarkable, versatile and scrumptious beverage.
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Contrary to popular belief, Black Tea is not entirely different from Green Tea, White Tea or Oolong Tea. All four main types of Tea originate from the Camellia sinensis plant (“Tea” plant). When they part ways is during the processing of the leaf.
Following the withering and rolling of the leaf, Tea begins to ferment and oxidise. During oxidation, oxygen particles interact with the cell walls of the Tea leaves, turning them darker and darker until they are either brown or black. Oxidation also alters the flavour profile of the Tea (which, at this stage, and by definition, is “Black Tea”) to accommodate distinct malty notes, sometimes even smokey or fruity notes depending on the Black Tea variety. By contrast, Green Tea, which is quickly heated and dried to prevent too much oxidation, is typically lighter in colour with notable vegetal, grassy or even floral tastes.
While its taste, aroma and overall profile differ to the likes of Green Tea (as well as White and Oolong Tea), they are still from the same plant, and also have one other similarity: the mystery surrounding their respective histories. Like Green Tea, no historian has ever been able to determine the precise time in which Black Tea was created, although some suggest the first “official” (by which we mean historically recorded) Black Tea was Lapsang Souchong.
According to legend, Lapsang Souchong was created in the Fujian province, China, by pure accident! Limited sources suggest that sometime during the Qing dynasty (1644 - 1912), bandits happened upon the village of Tong Mu Guan, where farmers had been tending to their Tea crop in the nearby fields. The bandits demanded the Tea be harvested and handed over in the coming days upon their return to the village; however, the farmers decided not to give in so easily. They harvested the Tea but then dried the leaves over pinewood fires to speed up the oxidation with the aim of sending the crop off to market before the bandits returned. The result was a “smoked” and noticeably “Black” Tea.
At first, the farmers thought they’d ruined the Tea. But at the market, they were approached by Dutch traders interested in sampling their produce. As the farmers stood in silence, expecting the worst, the traders looked up from their first sips - they had loved it! And so a new Tea was born, or so the story goes. Whether there is any truth to this tale remains a topic of considerable debate. Nevertheless, its conception gave rise to a new craze, a new Tea: Black Tea.
Here at The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company, Lapsang Souchong is just one of the dozens of types of Black Tea we stock. One may choose our flagship beverage, Pluckley Tea, or ever-popular Breakfast Teas such as English Breakfast Tea, Welsh Breakfast Tea or even Russian Breakfast Tea. We also have Earl Grey, Puerh Tea, Darjeeling Tea, Assam Tea and China Black Tea, as well as many, many more.