The Tea Detective
Uncovering and Exploring the Facts About Tea
A Guide to Buying and Brewing Black Tea
Black tea is the most widely drunk of the six main types of tea and nearly every
tea producing country makes it, although many only produce CTC black teas
(cut-tear-curl) for tea bags and
blends.  In fact I'm guessing if you're anything
like me, your main memory of tea from childhood was a box of Lipton black tea
bags residing on the pantry shelf.
It used to be the only choice
we had to make was whether to buy a box
of 20 or 100 black tea bags. Today, though,
we have many more choices and styles of
black tea than ever before to choose from,
and while we may enjoy the variety it can
also be confusing and hard to understand
what exactly that variety encompass- es.

What exactly should we be looking for when
buying loose leaf black tea?  How do we
know if it's fresh and good quality tea?  How
do we know what each individual tea should
taste like?  Sometimes the package instruc-
tions are vague or not there at all, so how
should black tea be prepared, how hot
should the water be, how much should be
used for one cup or a teapot, and how long should it be steeped?

These are all really good questions which I'll help you to answer. There are
two types of black tea-CTC and orthodox.  CTC teas are mainly used in
blends and
tea bags, with the tea basically pulverized into small pieces to
better fit in tea bags, meant to be strong and robust and steep quickly.

Loose leaf orthodox
black teas are artisan made, usually in smaller batches
and sometimes by hand.  This attention to detail brings out the individual
characteristics, drawing out and concentrating the flavor and aromas. Every
tea maker imparts his unique style when producing orthodox teas and to-
gether with the unique
terroir creates a tea unlike any other. So even though
black orthodox teas are produced in many countries, no two, even two with identical styles are
ever alike.

Because there are no set labeling standards
for black orthodox teas, shopping can be
puzzling at best and downright confusing at
worst, as different countries list different in-
formation.  So a tea from
India will have diff-
erent information listed than that of
China,
Sri Lanka, and Kenya, with some offering
plentiful information, while others may offer
very little on their package labels.

Using
India as an example, some items you
can expect to find on the package label may
include the country, specific region, tea gar-
den or estate, year harvested, season pluck-
         ed, type of manufacture, and the grade
         (this is a set of letters that correspond to a set grade, i.e., BOP means broken orange
         pekoe).  The three countries currently using this code are
Africa, India, and Sri Lanka.
         (See our
Naming/Grading page for a detailed explanation of the codes and their mean-
         ing).  If all the information was to be included, a typical package label may look like this:

         Country:  India                                               Year harvested:  2011
         Specific Region:  Darjeeling                            Season plucked:  Spring
         Tea garden or estate:  Singbulli                     Type of manufacture:  Orthodox
         Grade:  SFTGFOP1 Dj18

         Because it is a spring plucked tea from Darjeeling you can further
         assume it is a First Flush Darjeeling.  The grade is Special Fancy
         Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, with the #1 meaning best or
         superior quality.  In this instance it means Supreme.  The Dj18
         means it was harvested in about the second week of spring and
         was the 18th lot plucked.

         So, this label is actually giving you a lot of good information, especi-
         ally if you're looking for a good orthodox
Indian black tea.  If you've
         done a little research (which I always recommend doing before you
         begin shopping), you already know
Darjeeling teas are lively and robust with enticing
         floral and fruit aromas and that Singbulli estate is one of Darjeeling's finest tea gardens.
         You'll also know that Singbulli First Flush teas are robust in body with spicy, fruity
         flavors, and rich aromas.

                                                         From the label you know it's a spring 2011 made w/the
                                                         very first buds and leaves, prized for being the most
                                                         flavorful.  With a little research you know Darjeeling can
                                                         be a little pricey, so it pays to look around and shop and
                                                         compare online to get an average.  If while shopping you
                                                         can't find everything you need to know, always feel free
                                                         to call or contact the
tea shop or seller. They should be
         able to answer any and all questions, in a friendly, professional manner. If they can't or
         don't, go somewhere else, pronto!

         So, now let's move on to some tips on how to
properly brew
         black tea.  Black tea can only be infused one time for the
         most part. So if you were to purchase one pound of loose
         black tea of your choice, you will get about 200 servings no
         matter the style.

For brewing, the standard measure is 2 teaspoons of leafy or whole
leaf styles or 1 teaspoon of broken orange pekoe, orange pekoe,
(BOP/OP), or
CTC teas per 6 ounces of water.  So for an 8 oz. mug you would use 2 2/3 tsp.
leafy or whole leaf teas OR 1 1/3 tsp. BOP, OP, or CTC grades.
For a 24 oz.
travel mug you'll be brewing three times as much, so you would use 2 2/3 TBLSP.
leafy black tea or 1 1/3 TBLSP BOP/OP/CTC teas (1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons).  To brew a pot of
black tea multiply the 8 oz. cup amounts times the number of servings, i.e., For 32 oz. or four 8
oz. servings you would need 4 TBLSP leafy or whole leaf OR 2 TBLSP CTC/BOP/OP tea.
For brewing, the standard measure is 2 teaspoons of leafy or whole leaf styles or 1 teaspoon of broken orange
pekoe, orange pekoe, (BOP/OP), or
CTC teas per 6 ounces of water.  So for an 8 oz. mug you would use 2 2/3 tsp.
leafy or whole leaf teas OR 1 1/3 tsp. BOP, OP, or CTC grades.  For a 24 oz.
travel mug you'll be brewing three times
as much, so you would use 2 2/3 TBLSP. leafy black tea or 1 1/3 TBLSP BOP/OP/CTC teas (1 tablespoon = 3
teaspoons).  To brew a pot of black tea multiply the 8 oz. cup amounts times the number of servings, i.e., For 32 oz.
or four 8 oz. servings you would need 4 TBLSP leafy or whole leaf OR 2 TBLSP CTC/BOP/OP tea.


                                                The water temperature should be between 190-212F.  For small leaf, BOP, OP, or
                                                CTC tea  grades you should steep for 3 to 4 minutes and for orthodox leafy or whole
                                                leaf styles steep 4 to 5 min..

                                                Normally black teas have only one infusion but sometimes you can get a second
                                                infusion from large or whole leaf orthodox black teas, especially if the first infusion
                                                was short.  Once you become familiar with your style of black tea you can experiment
                                                to see if you can infuse it twice.

                                                Always remember these are suggestions and your individual tastes may be different.  
You may choose to use more or less tea if it tastes too weak or strong, or change up steeping times either longer or
shorter until it truly is "your cup of tea."  
Enjoy.
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