by Bruce Richardson (elmwoodinn.com)
The tea family most consumed by Western cultures is black tea, which can be offered as single-estate, blended, or flavored. A well-stocked cupboard should include at least four classic, handpicked, unflavored black teas from the major growing regions of the world.
Spotlight on Black Tea
This robust, malty tea is from the northeast Indian state of Assam, where over 800 tea gardens are cultivated. It is often manufactured for breakfast and is suited to the addition of milk. Look for a mellow tippy grade to accompany afternoon tea meals.
A delicate, slightly green black tea, Darjeeling hails from the Himalayan foothills of India. Eighty-six gardens in Darjeeling produce exceptional, and expensive, teas known for their distinctive muscatel overtones. The four yearly pickings are First Flush, Second Flush, Rainy Teas, and Autumnal Flush. These delicate, light teas are best infused for no more than four minutes.
China’s Yunnan province has produced exceptional teas for more than 1,700 years. This gorgeous black tea displays big golden buds and uniformly shaped leaves that brew to a rich, dark reddish-black liquor that has a molasses-like sweetness and a malty finish. Show the dry leaves to your guests for added appeal.
Ceylon Orange Pekoe
Many tea blenders offer a tea called orange pekoe. It is not a blend and has nothing to do with oranges. Orange pekoe (OP) is a grade of uniformly long pointed tea leaves, usually from either India or Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). Look for a single-estate Ceylon OP tea for all-day consumption—with or without milk.
Producing Black Tea Leaves
Plucked green tea leaves are allowed to wither for 12 to 24 hours. These limp leaves are in the early stages of oxidation, the principle chemical reaction that determines tea families. After the withering process, rolling machines twist and bruise the leaves, releasing their juices. The rolled leaves are allowed to oxidize, in the manner of compost, for up to four hours. Oxidation is halted by drying the now black leaves with hot air, usually in a drying machine. The finished tea is cleaned, sorted, and graded before packing.
Black Brewing Tips
• Fill a kettle with filtered cold water, and heat to a rolling boil, 212°.
• Warm the teapot with hot tap water.
• Discard the water in the teapot.
• Using an infuser basket or tea sack/filter, add 1 teaspoon of tea leaves per cup to the pot. Place sack or infuser in teapot.
• Pour the boiling water over the leaves in the pot. Agitate occasionally.
• Brew 3 to 5 minutes, or to taste. Remove wet leaves to prevent overbrewing.
• Pour tea into cups. Taste the tea before making additions such as milk, lemon, or sugar.