Black Tea – An Overview
By Sneha Birla
Many people wonder why the word black is used to describe a variety of popular tea (brew). The colour of tea is brown, orange or pale yellow. But black? Nearly impossible. Even the darkest tealeaf is never black. However, before delving deeper, let’s make our concept clear. The tea purchased from the market has a bright colour. Black tea is produced from the large leaf of Assam plant where the leaves need to pass through a complete oxidation process.
Oxidation, an important process
It is nearly impossible to produce good quality black brew without full oxidation. This process is responsible from the strong aroma of the brew. So, what is oxidation? Oxidation is a process that happens when something reactive is exposed to oxygen. This reaction makes crushed leaves brown. During oxidation, the enzymes in the leaves are oxidized. It darkens the green colour of the leaves. It is to be noted that most of the brew produced in the sub tropical and tropical regions are black. It comprises nearly 90% of total brew.
Categories of Black Tea
It is generally categorized into two major types – Orthodox and CTC. The main appeal lies in the bright red colour and mesmerising astringent flavour. The distinctive colour, flavour and taste occur because of the presence of a couple of flavonoids namely theaflavins and thearubigins produced during oxidation.
The word orthodox is used to indicate the traditional process of manufacturing. In this process, the leaves are processed manually or rolled. The orthodox variant is special as it retains the wholeness of the leaves. Full oxidization takes places of the rolled leaves. It is generally more complex than the CTC one. The brew is light, brisk and comes with a flavour that has multiple layers.
CTC stands for crushing, tearing and curling. There are special machines to perform these operations and at the end, there are granular leaf particles that come in different sizes.
The brew is graded primarily in three main categories according to the size of the grains – broken, fanning and dust. Broken has the largest sized grains. Dusts, on the other hand, are found after a sieving process. The size of fanning comes in between broken and dust. The smaller sized grains in the CTC type have a larger combined surface area than the orthodox one. Hence, one gets a full-bodied stronger cup quicker from CTC than orthodox.
The author works as deputy manager in one of the famous Assam black CTC tea manufacturers that owns several tea gardens in Assam. He has a special affinity for Assam tea and its variants. He has written multiple articles on this blend of tea in various magazines and portals.
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