Some like it hot, and some like it cold, but cultures around the world agree: black tea is an incredible beverage. From Chinese tea ceremonies to British tea-time, this drink has shaped the way that people live their lives for centuries. Although black tea may look humble as it steeps in your cup, it has a storied past and impressive list of health benefits associated with it.Some like it hot, and some like it cold, but cultures around the world agree: black tea is an incredible beverage. From Chinese tea ceremonies to British tea-time, this drink has shaped the way that people live their lives for centuries. Although black tea may look humble as it steeps in your cup, it has a storied past and impressive list of health benefits associated with it.
Black tea has a rich past
Black and green teas actually come from the same plants: Camellia sinensis assamica and Camellia sinensis sinensis.1 Green and black tea are processed differently, which results in distinct color and flavor profiles.
China has been brewing green and oolong teas for thousands of years, but black tea didn’t come about until the 1730s. After a green tea factory’s production was held up, green tea leaves started to oxidize.2 The oxidization led to the distinct flavor and color of black tea, and the accident became one of the most popular drinks worldwide.
There was lots of money to be made in the tea trade in the 1700s, but green tea didn’t retain its quality as well in transport as black tea. This is why most British tea culture revolves around black tea, while Eastern traditions favor green tea.
The West’s insatiable desire for tea led businessmen to take tea plants and seeds from China so that they could start tea plantations in other countries. India was among the most well-known of these locations, and tea became one of the main imports from the British East India Company.3
You’ve probably had black tea before, but you may not have realized it
Iced tea, sun tea, Earl Grey tea, Ceylon tea, and English breakfast tea are all variants of black tea. Black tea is served hot, cold, sweetened, and unsweetened. People often add milk, sugar, lemon, or honey to their drinks.4
All the varieties of black tea have different flavors, and taste preferences can define a region. The American South, for example, is known for its sweetened iced tea. The British have hot tea and pastries in the mid-afternoon. In Turkey, black tea is served hot in small glasses with the option to sweeten it with sugar cubes.
Many black teas are named for their region of origin. For example, Ceylon tea comes from Sri Lanka, and Darjeeling tea comes from India. Other designations, such as sun tea, refer to the manner in which the drink was prepared.5
Black tea vs. Green tea
As two of the most popular varieties of tea, you might be wondering what the difference between black and green tea is. As previously mentioned, green tea is made from unoxidized tea leaves, while black tea is fully oxidized. Green tea leaves are dark green in appearance, and when they are brewed, they produce a light greenish or golden drink.
The oxidization process gives black tea leaves their dark color. When brewed, the resulting beverage is a dark reddish-brown color. This is why black tea is often referred to as “red tea” in China. Green tea has a light flavor, while black tea tends to have a more robust taste.
Flavor can also change depending on the way that the leaves are prepared. Some of the highest quality green and black teas are loose-leaf varieties, which produce a better taste than bagged teas. Matcha, tea made from powdered leaves, is another fine variant.6 Most often, matcha is made from green tea leaves, but it is possible to get black matcha as well.
Tea bags were an accidental invention that became popular for people on the go, but if you’re a tea aficionado, it’s worth looking at the quality of the leaves packaged in that manner.7 Often these are finely chopped, and they tend to be low-quality compared to loose leaf varieties.
Black tea contains 25-48 mg of caffeine per eight ounce glass compared to green tea’s 25-29 mg per cup.8 Depending on the quality of the leaves and the preparation methods, green and black tea can have roughly equivalent amounts of caffeine, but you’re more likely to get a bigger jolt from drinking black tea. These teas have significantly less caffeine that coffee, which averages about 95-165 mg per cup.
5 Amazing Health Benefits of Drinking Black Tea
1. It’s rich in antioxidants such as polyphenols, catechins, thearubigins, and theaflavins. Antioxidants can reduce illness and signs of aging by preventing damage to your DNA.9 These same antioxidants may lower your risk for getting certain types of cancer.10
2. It’ll wake you up. Black tea contains caffeine and theophylline, both of which have a mild stimulant effect.11 Some sources suggest that consuming black tea can prevent osteopoerosis, and Type II diabetes but more research is necessary to verify those claims.12
3. Black tea is good for your teeth. As long as you don’t pour yourself a glass of sugary sweet tea, you’ll experience improved dental health when you drink black tea. Black tea prevents plaque build up and kills bacteria that causes cavities.13
4. It’s an excellent way to support cardiovascular health. Reaching for a cup of tea can ward off headaches, lower cholesterol, and relieve high blood pressure.14 Regular consumption of black tea is also known to prevent atherosclerosis (clogged arteries).
5. It supports your digestive health. Surprisingly, black tea can also have a soothing effect on the digestive system.15 The tannins in black tea make it valuable for treating diarrhea and other digestive conditions.
People have been using the stems and leaves of black tea for medicinal purposes for generations. As more research on black tea is published, we’ll learn even more about its potential benefits.
Here’s how to brew yourself a cup of delicious black tea
Now that you know a little bit about the history of black tea and its possible health benefits, you may be eager to reach for a cup. There are so many ways to prepare black tea, but brewing it for consumption while its hot is one of the most popular methods.
The quality of your ingredients matters
Since the primary ingredient of tea is water, you’ll want to make sure that you use good water to brew. Some tap water has a strong chlorinated flavor, which will impact the quality of your final product. Choose filtered water if you can.
There are different grades of tea leaf. The cheapest and lowest quality teas are found in flat round or rectangular bags with finely chopped leaves similar to the ones below.
Although you can produce a serviceable cup of tea from such bags, it will have astringent and bitter qualities that you don’t find as often in higher grades of tea.
If you are using a teabag, opt for one filled with loose leaves instead of chopped pieces. A pyramid-shaped bag will give leaves a greater chance to steep and infuse your water.
Loose leaf teas that you put into a infuser or teapot will make a better drink than most bagged varieties. When you buy loose leaf tea, it’s almost always going to be a higher quality leaf. The infuser allows water to flow freely around the tea to bring out the delicate flavor notes.
When it comes to a good cup of tea, timing is everything
Many people over-heat their water when brewing tea today, but it’s unnecessary. Heat water until it’s almost to a boil. Add one teaspoon of leaves or one tea bag to the water, and allow it to steep for 1-2 minutes. Allowing the leaves to steep for longer will produce a bitter and unpalatable concoction.
Enjoy a calming and refreshing drink
After you’ve removed your leaves, you can enjoy your tea. Some people choose to add a small amount of sweetener to their cup of tea, but that depends on personal preference. While it is delightful with honey or lemon, black tea can also be enjoyed without any additives.
Black tea is the perfect pick-me-up during a busy day, but you can also serve it with meals or a mid-afternoon snack. This drink’s versatility, the multitude of health benefits associated with it, and the cultural impact that it has had around the world make it a great addition to your kitchen.