From Britain’s favorite English Breakfast blend with a splash of milk to the world-renowned Chinese red teas, black tea is diverse and always delicious. But there’s more to this famous drink than just how to drink it! Everything you need to know about black tea includes where it’s grown, how it’s produced, how it tastes and some unexpected health benefits.
To be specific, black tea can only be made from the Camellia Sinensis plant. The 2 major varieties of this plant are Sinensis (Chinese black teas are derived from this variety) and Assamica (which produces the deliciously malty Indian Assam tea). To make the tea for your favorite black tea blend, the leaves are picked, withered, rolled and oxidized. This oxidizing process turns the green leaves black and gives you that rich, bold black tea flavor. We then quickly fire the leaves to stop them oxidizing further, then dry, roll and package the leaves for you to buy.
The Origins of Black Tea
Although we all know that tea plants grow all over the world, China is the definitive home of black tea! The Chinese were the first to turn their tea leaves dark, so we have them to thank for our humble cuppa today.
In China, black tea is referred to as red tea due to the warm reddy-brown color of the tea liquor once brewed. Black tea refers to fermented tea (like PU-erh) in China – check out our Guide to the Different Types of Tea to discover more about the difference between our “black” tea and Pu-erh.
Unlike green tea, which can be traced back many thousands of years, black tea is relatively new. Well, new in the grand scale of things! First recordings of black tea that’s oxidized for a richer flavor start appearing around the 17th century (the 1600s), where we find the first Lapsang Souchongs being brewed in the Fujian province.
A few centuries after that and the Assamica variety was discovered in India. Up until the British arriving in India, this tea was used for medicinal purposes. Nowadays, black tea production in India is widespread predominately with Darjeeling and Assam blends are known worldwide.
11 Best Black Tea 2020
Moreover, comprehensive research documented in the Archives of Internal Medicine gives sound evidence of black tea’s ability to lower your blood pressure. Study indicates that regular consumption of high-quality black tea can reduce the risk of hypertension prevalence and cardiovascular diseases by 10%.
Therefore, to keep your health and taste buds in check, we have tested, analyzed, and reviewed numerous tea brands to offer you the best black tea options available today.
1. POSITIVELY TEA COMPANY ASSAM ORGANIC BLACK TEA
Allow your taste buds to savor a sweetly smooth, yet complex flavor profile by the Positively Tea Company. ‘Assam Organic Black Tea’ is certified USDA organic and originates from the state of Assam in India.
It is also a staple breakfast option for the majority in the Indian subcontinent. The tea itself is naturally rich in antioxidants, amino acids, polyphenols, minerals, vitamins, and caffeine. Moreover, it contains no preservatives, additives, or colorants—giving you the confidence of a caffeinated beverage without any unhealthy ingredients.
The manufacturer recommends steeping the leaves at 212°F for about three minutes. A pound of Assam Organic Black Tea will give you anywhere between 150 to 240 cups, depending on your brewing methods.
The Positively Tea Company specializes in picking only premium quality loose leaf teas from across the globe to offer the finest blend of various types of teas.
2. TWININGS OF LONDON ENGLISH BREAKFAST BLACK TEA
One of the oldest and most distinguished tea brands of the world—Twinings of London presents their signature tea product: the English Breakfast Tea!
It offers a robustly smooth and flavorful taste to satiate your tea-craving taste buds.
The English Breakfast Tea is a potpourri of the finest black tea leaves of five different regions—Assam, Kenya, Malawi, Indonesia, and China—and each adds its own flair to the blend. Moreover, the leaves are hand-picked to ensure the high-quality standards the manufacturer has set for its tea brands. Today, Twinings of London is consumed in more than 100 countries across the world.
Your Twinings of London wholesome tea is made without any artificial additives, preservatives, or color. You should use a Keurig Brewer to press the 6 to 8 oz. brew button for maximum flavor extraction.
3. Tata Tea Premium—Jaago Re
Tata Tea Premium is the signature tea brand of Tata Global Beverages. This pure tea leaves beverage comes from the tea gardens of Nagaon, Assam, and offers a powerful, unbitter taste.
If you’ve ever been to Assam or are a native, a cup of Tata Tea Premium will surely remind you of this Northeastern Indian state. You packaged Tata Tea Premium is best before 12 months from packaging.
The campaign associated with tea: ‘Tata Tea Jaago Re’ has diametrically changed the way beverages are branded in India by reorienting tea from just a morning drink to an instrument of social awakening.
The company is renowned for pioneering change and in 1985, revolutionized the Indian market by packaging tea in poly packs. Less than 20 years later, Tata Tea Premium was formed.
4. Lipton Black Tea—America’s Favorite Tea
I am sure even if you haven’t tasted a Lipton tea, you might have heard about it. The Unilever-owned British brand Lipton is a manufacturer of ready-to-drink hot and iced beverages.
A single tea bag offers you an invigorating aroma, a rich taste, and a powerful color. Also, your tea bags are complete “Rainforest Alliance certified.” It is a fantastic addition to your meals since it’s refreshingly tasty.
The expert blenders at Lipton have created a sumptuous blend by only including fresh and professionally selected tea leaves to ensure the retention of maximum natural tea taste.
You Lipton tea bags are packaged in a sturdy lock-box for convenient storage and wrapped tea trays to preserve the great taste and fragrance.
5. Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold
Yorkshire Gold is a premium quality versatile blend of three leaf origins from the top 10 tea gardens in the world—including Assam, Kenya, and Rwanda.
Each cup offers a richly golden brew loaded with freshness and taste. You can also add sugar, milk, and honey for an enhanced flavor profile. The majority of users prefer to add a cup of Yorkie Gold to their morning meals.
Taylors of Harrogate are making the world a better place with their finest blends of teas since 1886, and Yorkshire Tea is their signature brand. The manufacturer only trusts the professionalism of ‘Rainforest Alliance Certified Growers.’
Moreover, each Yorkshire Tea box carries the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) trademark. FSC is an organization that promotes responsible forest management.
6. GOODRICKE CASTLETON PREMIUM MUSCATEL DARJEELING TEA
When we say that a sip of Castleton Muscatel Darjeeling Tea will propel you into an unparalleled realm of taste, trust us! Because it’s the crowning glory of Darjeeling—a state globally renowned for its exorbitant Muscatel tea prices.
The tea is a distinctive second-flush Muscatel extracted from sole June production to attain the best flavor. Your whole leaves Castleton Muscatel Darjeeling tea offers a fruity, musky taste with a full-bodied texture.
The manufacturer recommends adding a teaspoon of Castleton to freshly boiled water before letting it rest for 4 to 5 minutes. You can also add sugar and milk for an enhanced flavor profile.
7. STASH—Tea Double Bergamot Earl Grey Tea
STASH presents a unique blend of classic Earl Grey black tea and citrusy bergamot with just the right amount of caffeine to get your day started. The product is equally refreshing and delicious hot or iced and can be further enriched with a dash of honey.
It’s no secret that Stash Earl Grey Tea is a seasoned best seller courtesy of its exquisite blend of citrusy bergamot oil and a fine-mixture of different black teas. Therefore, to further redefine excellence, they came up with the Stash Double Bergamot Earl Grey tea.
The leaves itself are sourced from various tea gardens of the world before blended in Oregon. The rest of the ingredients are completely GMO-free ingredients, thereby ensuring a product that is healthy for you and safe for the environment.
The STASH tea company is in the tea business for nearly 50 years and offers a complete range of classic and herbal teas. To guarantee freshness, each tea bag is wrapped in “stay-fresh” foil wrappers. The manufacturer recommends brewing in a tea press or strainer for maximum flavor extraction.
8. VAHDAM CHAI TEA SAMPLER—LOOSE TEA LEAVES
Imagine spoiling yourself with not a couple, but ten masala chai loose tea options individually packaged in 10gram portions. That is exactly what VAHDAM offers you in its bundle of joy that includes malty Assam black teas melded with an assortment of aromatic Indian spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves, black pepper, and fennel seeds.
Your masala chai options are:
India’s Original Masala Chai Tea—the classic Indian blend of premium Assam CTC with innumerable flavoring Indian spices.
Double Spice Masala Chai Tea—the conventional Indian masala chai with two times the strength and spices offers a bold flavor in every sip you take.
Sweet Cinnamon Masala Chai Tea—the sought-after flavor of strong Assam tea melded with freshly crushed cardamom and cinnamon.
Kashmiri Kahwa Masala Chai Tea—a classic Kashmiri chai tea with the finest green tea blended with fertile condiments like nuts and spices.
Cardamom Masala Chai Tea—strong Assam black tea mixed with cardamom pods to offer you the traditional Indian masala flavor.
Turmeric Spice Herbal Tea Tisane—A tropical assortment of aromatic and turmeric spices such as cloves, cardamom, and black pepper.
Assam Spice Masala Chai Tea—An exotic blend of sturdy, Assam tea (long-leaf) with rich, delicious Indian spices.
Fennel Spice Masala Chai Tea—An invigorating mixture of the finest Assam CTC with the healing properties of fresh spices and fennel.
Saffron Premium Masala Chai Tea—VAHDAM’s premium Assam black tea with the potpourri of enticing saffron, fragrant spices, and almonds.
Earl Grey Masala Chai Tea—An exquisite blend of the classic masala chai with the energized notes of organic bergamot oil.
9. Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice
Hot Cinnamon Spice is a delicious assortment of black teas, sweet clove, orange peel, and, of course, three types of cinnamon. It is a medium-bodied caffeinated tea, yet it fills your taste buds with a mélange of spices. Specifically, China black is the base ingredient of Hot Cinnamon Spice tea, which makes the leaves dark brown. Moreover, your tea would have slivers of cinnamon bark, and orange peel glittered with cinnamon dust.
It’s also the most popular and flavorful drink of Harney & Sons. Founded in 1983, this American tea company specializes in premium-quality loose and herbal teas, and offer numerous organic and certified kosher products.
10. The Republic of Tea Vanilla Almond Black Tea
The Republic of Tea presents one of its flagship products: Vanilla Almond Black Tea! It is a delightful blend of vanilla beans, almond, vanilla flavors, and, of course, black tea. You consume every sip with the confidence that your tea is certified gluten-free with the official seal of the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) to guarantee it.
Madagascar vanilla beans and almond work in harmony to offer you the irresistible aroma and a fantastically bold taste. Also, the product carries less than half of the amount of caffeine in coffee—which makes it an ideal morning alternative Black tea, as it clears up your foggy mind and boosts mental awareness.
The manufacturer delivers your packaged goodness in a patently designed light-resistant, air-tight tins containing unbleached tea bags that are free of unwanted strings, envelopes, staples, or tags.
11. Yogi Tea – Honey Chai Turmeric Vitality – Sweet and Spicy Blend
Yogi blends scrumptious Ayurvedic spices, including Cardamom, Cinnamon, Clove, and Ginger, with natural honey for a lightly sweet yet richly spiced chai tea mixture. The overall power of the ingredients coupled with turmeric helps you sustain a healthy living.
You can consume your Honey Chai Turmeric tea with the positivity that it carries no caffeine, gluten, additives, preservatives, or colors. Your goodness is packaged in environment-friendly compostable tea bags.
The manufacturer recommends steeping the tea for about seven minutes for deriving the maximum flavor. If you desire a stronger brew, add two tea bags, or milk and sugar for an added flavor.
Types of Black Tea
With hundreds of varieties, cultivars, altitudes, soil types, and unique processing methods, there’s potentially an unlimited number of different black teas to be grown and consumed. Here’s what all black teas, regardless of type, have in common:
- Produces a darker liquor, usually brown or red in color.
- Has a bold, roasted aroma.
- Is stronger, sweeter and fuller in flavor and body than green tea.
- Contains higher levels of tannins than other tea types, which can cause a slight bitterness.
- Is often consumed with milk and sugar to complement the rich sweetness of the natural tea flavors.
Different cultures drink black tea for different reasons and in different ways, from using it as medicine to drinking it as a social norm to using it to celebrate.
Indian Black Tea
There are 3 main types of tea grown in India, but you’ll probably be thinking of milky spiced chai when you imagine Indian black tea. This masala chai (meaning spiced tea) is popular around the world and can be made with any type of black tea – but to be traditional, choose one of the black teas below.
Assam is typically bold, rich and very malty. It can sometimes have fruity notes too. Although it’s strong and bold, it is quite refreshing too. Most people drink Assam tea with milk and sugar to dilute the strength. The creaminess goes well with the maltiness of the tea. Assam tea is only grown in the Assam region of India.
Nilgiri is a Southern tea from India. It’s dark and aromatic with a variety of brisk flavors. The area where Nilgiri is grown has varied altitudes, resulting in many different flavor notes depending on the exact estate where it’s grown and harvested.
Darjeeling is light, floral and delicate – sometimes referred to as the Champagne of teas. Darjeeling is mostly made into thin-bodied, light black teas but there are some green, white and oolong specialty Darjeelings available. As it’s so delicate and light, it’s usually drunk without milk.
Chinese Black Tea
Chinese black teas are typically lighter than Indian and other countries’ black teas, primarily because of the variety Sinensis, which is lighter than Assamica. Here, black teas are categorized by the area in which they are grown. They are also processed using a slower, more traditional method that creates complex flavors. Many of the countries listed below will use a ‘crush, tear, curl’ method that’s quicker but results in a lower quality tea that’s simple and less flavourful.
Types of Chinses Teas
Dianhong is a Yunnan red tea from, obviously, the Yunnan province. Its characteristics are sweet, gentle and light in color. There are several varieties of this tea, if you’re looking for the best quality you should try Yunnan Pure Gold which consists of the golden tips of the tea and produces a bright, delicate cup. Lower quality varieties, Broken Yunnan for example, are often used in tea blends.
Jinhoucha translates as Golden Monkey tea. This is one of the most highly prized black teas. It’s light, sweet and has notes of honey and peaches – the highest grades have no astringency whatsoever.
Jinjunmei is a Lapsang Souchong black tea (see more about that a bit below) and is typically sweet, fruity and floral. It’s made from plucked in the early spring, giving the tea a more delicate, refreshing flavor. This is one of the most prestigious teas available.
Keemun is a gentle, slightly malty black tea with stone fruit notes. The highest grades will also have a floral flavor and aroma. This tea is grown in the Anhui province and is used in many classic, popular blends.
Lapsang Souchong black teas are smoked as part of the drying process, leaving a smoky pinewood aroma and flavor in your cup. It’s grown in the Wuyi region and is increasingly popular and sought after.
Many other countries with the right climate and altitude grow tea for making black tea. Even the UK has one small tea estate, although it only produces a very small amount of tea that’s blended with other country’s teas before being sold.
Kenyan Black Tea is the most produced type of tea in this country. It’s grown predominately to be blended with other tea types to create breakfast black tea blends. Many varieties and cultivars are grown here across Kenya. Kenyan black tea characteristics are brisk and full-bodied. They are typically very strong and don’t need to brew for long.
Turkish Black Tea is grown in the Rize area of Turkey, bordering the black sea. The tea grown here is made into Rize tea, a very popular black tea that drinks across Turkey at all times of day with sugar cubes. It’s fresh, full-flavored and needs to be diluted down before consumed as the long, slow brewing process makes it very strong.
Sri Lankan Black Tea, also known as Ceylon Black Tea, is popular around the world both as single-origin black teas and breakfast blends. These whole leaf black teas are shaped into long, wiry leaves that brew a light, mellow, full-flavored cup with crisp citrus notes. It’s a popular black tea base for the iconic Earl Grey tea.
Taiwanese Black Tea is not as well-known as the oolongs are grown in Taiwan. The altitudes, climates, and soils make Taiwanese black teas very similar in characteristics to Chinese black tea, but with more honeyed sweet notes. Some varieties also have unique tasting notes of mint and cinnamon. You might find Taiwanese black teas labeled as Formosan.
How to Choose the Best Black Tea
Buying black tea online offers you a far wider array of teas to choose from. If you’re looking for a good quality black tea that tastes far better than your supermarket options, look for whole loose leaf and a recent harvest date. Sellers that are forthcoming with information about their black teas are more trustworthy!
When it comes to black tea, you can also look for different tea grades. Starting with the lowest grade of black tea:
P – This simply means that 2 leaves and 1 bud are picked from the tea plant and made into your tea. Although it’s the lowest grade, it’s still far better than crushed tea in tea bags and lower, larger leaves plucked from the tea plant.
OP – Leaf-only tea, made with just the top leaves and without the buds. Still a good quality tea and easily available to buy.
Flowery Orange Pekoe
FOP – Longer leaves than just Orange Pekoe, but less tightly rolled and containing some buds – this alters the flavour of the tea as the buds are younger and fresher.
Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
GFOP – This means it’s the same as Flowery Orange Pekoe, but with a slightly higher ratio of golden tips. These tips contain more concentrated and complex flavors than the leaves.
Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
TGFOP – Flowery Orange Pekoe with many golden tips, enough to be called “tippy”!
Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe
FTGFOP – This simply means it’s a finer tea of the previous grade, picked with more care, containing a high number of golden tips, completely unbroken, etc. This is the highest grade and if you can find this tea, definitely buy it!
Other Tea Grades
Sometimes you can come across additional grades:
Adding S or 1 to the FTGFOP grades just signifies that it’s the best of the best and will be better than the FTGFOP grade from that tea estate.
BOP – broken orange pekoe. The leaves are broken, reducing the quality and grade significantly.
FBOP – flowery broken orange pekoe. Although the leaves and buds are a higher grade, they’re still broken.
Other Thing You Need to Know About Black Tea
How Black Tea is Made?
The difference between black tea and other types of tea like green tea is all in the production process.
- The leaves are picked by hand or by machine. The size and age of the leaves determine the grade. The top leaves and buds produce the best tea for green and black tea. The lower, larger leaves are usually used to make oolong.
- The leaves are withered in the sun. By reducing the moisture levels through withering, the cell structure within the leaves starts to break down. The tea leaf juices and nutrients (we’ll explain these a bit further down as they have some great health benefits) are easier to infuse into your cup and will oxidize quicker.
- We roll or crush the leaves to oxidize them. Slightly breaking and bending the leaves activates the enzymes within. When these enzymes meet the oxygen in the air, they oxidize. Basically, this turns the leaves darker and changes the flavor profile too.
- After that, we quickly fix the leaves using heat. This deactivates the enzymes and allows the tea producers to keep the leaves at the perfect level of oxidation.
- Finally, we dry the leaves and shape them usually into curled or long and thin shapes.
Should I Worry About Caffeine in Black Tea?
No, there’s really no reason to worry unless you are especially sensitive to caffeine. The recommended limit amount of caffeine per day is 400mg. So, you can have 8 cups of black tea and only just meet the limit.
Caffeine blocks the receptors in your brain, preventing you from feeling drowsy and tired. As a result, you’ll feel more awake and alert. Black tea also contains L-theanine, which keeps you calm, relaxed and focused. Within 24 hours the effects of the caffeine will have worn off.
More: Black Tea Caffeine
Benefits of Black Tea?
Black tea is ever popular as a healthy drink to try, especially amongst dieters. But black tea has its health benefits too. In fact, it has some health benefits unique over green tea. Here are the top 4 health benefits of black tea.
- Heart health. Drinking black tea can reduce the risks of heart disease, and in turn combat obesity and lower blood pressure. It also reduces levels of LDL cholesterol, thus further reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
- Mental health. In the short term, the l-theanine in black tea soothes anxiety and blocks the receptors in your brain that cause you to feel stressed and worried. In the long term, it may slow the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
- Gut health. The antimicrobial properties of black tea can inhibit bad bacteria lingering in your gut while promoting healthy bacteria.
- Skincare. Black tea, and green tea, contain antioxidants that bind to free radicals. Besides causing cancer, these free radicals also speed up the effects of aging. Black tea antioxidants prevent these free radicals and keep your skin firm and youthful for longer, plus they reduce inflammation (blemishes).
We did a lot of research on the health benefits of one of our favorite tea types. Read Black Tea Health Benefits to find out more.
How to Brew Black Tea?
Brewing black tea is very simple and quickly becomes a ritual. This is our guide for using loose leaf to make 1 mug of tea.
You will need:
- 1 mug
- Whole loose black tea leaves
- Boiling water
- Strainer or tea infuser
- Milk, sugar, honey and/or sweetener of your choosing
Start by boiling the freshwater. While it heats up, add 1 teaspoon of black tea leaves (approximately 2g) to your cup. You might want to use an infuser, where you place the leaves inside a perforated container and submerge it in the water – this makes it easier to remove them afterward. Alternatively, you could prepare your tea in a teapot then simply strain the tea leaves out as you pour into your mug.
Once the water is boiled, pour it over the tea leaves. Let the leaves infuse for approximately 3 minutes, or as directed by the supplier.
Next, add milk, sugar, honey or any other additives you like to taste. We recommend trying it black first! Many high-quality black teas taste better without any additives.
You can use black tea bags to make the process easier, in which case you might need to reduce the brew time. Fair warning: tea bags are inferior quality to whole loose leaf and won’t taste as good!
To assess what the Americans are drinking, we are bringing you 11 options to satiate your everyday black tea cravings:
- Positively Tea Company Assam Organic Black Tea offers a sweetly smooth, yet complex flavor profile, and originates from the state of Assam in India.
- Twinings Of London English Breakfast Black Tea is a potpourri of the finest black tea leaves of five different regions with each adding its own flair to the blend.
- Tata Tea Premium is a pure tea leaves beverage coming from the tea gardens of Nagaon, Assam, and offers a powerful, unbitter taste.
- Lipton Black Tea offers you an invigorating aroma, a rich taste, and a powerful color.
- Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold is a premium quality versatile blend of three leaf origins from the top tea gardens in the world.
- Goodricke Castleton Premium Muscatel Darjeeling Tea is a distinctive second-flush Muscatel extracted from sole June production to attain the best flavor.
- STASH—Tea Double Bergamot Earl Grey Tea is a unique blend of classic Earl Grey black tea and citrusy bergamot with just enough caffeine.
- Vahdam Chai Tea Sampler—loose Tea Leaves are ten masala chai loose tea options individually packaged in 10gram portions.
- Harney & Sons Hot Cinnamon Spice is a delicious assortment of black teas, sweet clove, orange peel, and three types of cinnamon.