Chinese Black Tea
It is said that the first tea originated in China some 4,000 years ago. The legend goes like this:
Emperor Shen Nung in 2737 B.C. was boiling some water for drinking one day when some leaves of a nearby plant fell into his pot. After drinking the beverage, the emperor became so enchanted by its delicious smell and taste that he began urging his people to drink it.
The plant of course is the common tea plant, Camellia sinensis. And drinking tea was soon elevated from just another normal everyday occurrence to an art form and a form of alternative medicine.
From that single drink, Chinese tea evolved into some 15,000 known varieties. Depending on how it is processed, tea falls loosely into six categories, white, yellow, green, oolong, red (known as black tea in the West), and Chinese black tea.
As implied from its name, brewed Chinese black tea ranges in color from a dark reddish brown to black. One of its unique characteristics is that it mellows with age and grows richer and deeper in flavor. You probably heard how wine becomes better with age. With Chinese black tea, you will experience the same thing.
Vintage varieties of Chinese black tea are superlative. They boast of flavors and aromas that conjure up the same adjectives used to describe fine wine or whiskey. Unlike green tea, its much more popular cousin, Chinese black tea is richer in flavor and more full-bodied. Some varieties have even a certain spice to their tastes. To be sure, the tea has the most intriguing taste out of all tea varieties.
Storing Chinese black tea is simple. Just keep it in a well-ventilated place. The tea doesn’t even require temperature regulation. Unlike other teas, Chinese black tea comes in compressed cakes of various shapes and sizes. Sometimes, they’re round. Sometimes, square. Other times, they may even be fashioned into bamboo-like tubes.
Truly like wine, black teas differ subtly in flavor and aroma depending on where they were grown and how long they have aged.
“Although tea-drinking has long been a global trend, interest in black tea has soared in the past two or three years,” explains Shaojun Luo, chairman of the China National Center of Quality Supervision and Inspection of Tea. “China’s well-to-do are passionate about buying black tea. Still, with such limited quantities produced, vintage black tea is very hard to come by.”
All teas are green from the start. By steaming these green tea leaves and leaving them to ferment naturally, Chinese black tea is produced. But how did the drink acquire its characteristic color? The process actually involves the workings of molds, such as aspergillus and penicillium, and in that respect, is much like making cheese.
Although Sichuan is credited as the first main district that produced Chinese black tea, the history of the beverage remains integrally linked to Tibet, Mongolia, and the Uyghur people of northwestern China. In these areas, drinking black tea is synonymous with health and going without it for even a day is to invite illness.
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