Black Tea

Black Tea: A Postfermented Tea for Laying Down

In the West this is known as dark tea, as the dry leaves are dark without actually being black. However, once wet, the leaves turn black, which is why the Chinese call it black tea. It is the only tea family that improves with age, and it is also the only tea to undergo a genuine fermentation process comparable to the fermentation of wine.
As with green tea, after picking, the tea shoots are exposed to high heat in large pans to halt any enzymatic oxidation. The shoots are then rolled into twists while still warm to break down the cells and enable a uniform fermentation to occur. After that, they are dried until they contain no more than 10% residual humidity, then stored in a room at a minimum temperature of 77° F (25° C) moistened, and covered with a damp cloth topped with straw. Fermentation subsequently begins through the action of micro-organisms: this is an organic fermentation process. This stage is very important, as this is when the bouquet of the tea develops. It lasts a few days and is what some studies of tea refer to as the late fermentation of black teas. The tea is then dried. Drying varies according to intended use, as this is the maturing period.
There are two major subfamilies of black tea.

  • Loose-leaf black teas, which either undergo accelerated drying in ovens at 158° F (70° C) for several hours and will not be suitable for ageing, or are stored in rooms to dry naturally for periods ranging from a few days to several months- the maturing process. The latter will be suitable for ageing for one or two years.
  • Compressed black teas, which are dried over a much longer period of time, and also have a longer maturing period, which takes place in caves or cellars and lasts up to a century! Once fermented, the shoots are placed in different-sized molds, moistened, and stored in caves or cellars with high humidity. This storage period allows the tea to develop blended aromas and to become rounder and smoother. The tea is eventually dried to halt the ageing process and to stabilize it.

The finest-quality black teas are produced in China, in five provinces: Yunnan (which produces the famous Pu-erh tea, which was honored with the name gong cha under the Ming dynasty), Hubei, Hunan, Guangxi and Sichuan. Century-old tea cakes can be worth a fortune.

- p. 105, Alchemy of Tea in Tea: Aromas and Flavors Around the World by Lydia Gautier (2005)

Palace Pu-erh Black Tea
Pur-eh Tea