All tea starts out from the Camellia Sinensis plant. To make black tea, the leaves are first laid out for the withering process to remove moisture. The next step is rolling. Rolling breaks the cellular walls and releases the enzymes that give tea its flavor characteristics. Tea can be rolled by hand or with a machine. The more expensive varieties are usually hand rolled.

The tea is allowed to fully oxidize which turns the leaves dark. Green tea skips this step. The oxidized leaves are passed through hot air tunnels or baked in ovens. This dries the leaves and stabilizes them, allowing them to be sorted and packaged.

Grading Black Tea

A term you may have heard, 'Orange Pekoe' has nothing to do with flavor but indicates a particular leaf that was used for the tea. The code OP is sometimes used. BOP simply means Broken Orange Pekoe, indicating smaller pieces of the leaf. Black tea grading is not standard and uniform for each producing country. In general there are four major grades. Whole Leaves, Broken Leaves, Fannings and dust. Whole leaf grades are considered the most valuable, especially if they contain leaf tips. Broken grades are considered medium grades while fannings and dust (i.e. the leftovers) are considered the bottom grades and relegated to tea bags.

For example, the designation for the top grade is FTGFOP. Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe. This indicates that the youngest top portion of the plant was used and had many ‘tips’ or leaf buds and flowers that are golden in color.

Black teas in particular can be produced in the orthodox fashion (rolled either by hand or by machine) or CTC (Crush, Tear, Curl) which is machine-processed in a way that chops the leaves into uniformly-sized bits that are rolled into small balls. The CTC is popular amongst African tea and gives them their bold, bright profiles.

Producing Regions

The majority of the black tea produced comes from China, India, Sri Lanka and Africa (Kenya especially). The names of teas often refer to the particular estate or province the tea is grown in. Assam and Darjeeling are the better known Indian teas. Sri Lankan teas are known by their classic name, Ceylon. Many black teas from China come from the Yunnan or Fujian provinces, but their origins are not always revealed in the names themselves, Golden Monkey is such an example.

Health Benefits

Many of the health benefits of green tea are the same as the health benefits of black tea. Although black tea has less epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) than green tea, it is higher in both theoflavins and thearubigens—compounds which have been found to be as effective antioxidants as EGCG. A study in the Netherlands found a connection between regular consumption of black tea and reduced risk of stroke. Researchers concluded that the health benefits of black tea include the reduction of LDL—the “bad” cholesterol that can lead to stroke and heart attacks. They also found that men who drank over four cups of black tea per day were at lower risk of stroke than men who drank only two to three cups per day.

Another study in Saudi Arabia showed that regular consumption of black tea can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by fifty percent. And in the United States, a four month study concluded that the health benefits of black tea include helping to reverse an abnormal functioning of the blood vessels that can contribute to stroke or heart attack. This improvement could be observed within two hours of drinking just one cup of black tea.

Precose and Glyset: Naturally in Black Tea

Black tea contains a substance that mimics type 2 diabetes drugs Precose and Glyset. Black tea contains more of the substance, a polysaccharide compound, than either green or oolong tea, according to Haixia Chen and colleagues of Tianjin University, China. Their findings were reported in the Journal of Food and Science

Coarse tea has been used as a diabetes treatment in China and Japan. It's known that tea polysaccharides reduce blood sugar.

Chen and colleagues show that tea polysaccharides inhibit an enzyme called alpha-glucosidase, which turns starch into glucose. The diabetes drugs Precose and Glyset work by inhibiting this enzyme.

Brewing Methods

Hot tea brewing method: Heat water to 212°F (boiling). Place 1 heaping teaspoon per 6 ounce cup. Steeping time depends on the tea, but usually ranges from 4-5 minutes.

Iced tea brewing method: Heat water to 212°F (boiling). Place 1 heaping teaspoon per 6 ounce cup. Steeping time depends on the tea, but usually ranges from 4-5 minutes. Remove tea leaves and add ice. Emperor's Seven Treasures, Pearl of Fruits, and Red Wildberry make excellent iced teas.