Tea Brewing 101: Black Tea

What is Black Tea?

     Black tea is part of the Camellia sinensis plant and was first discovered in China in the mid 17th century. Previously, green and oolong were the only teas consumed. It is the most oxidized tea type (hence the darker color) and can endure higher brewing temperatures and preserves better than most teas. In British culture, black tea became associated with wealth and social status. Traditions like Afternoon Tea were established, and as black tea became more affordable, it became a staple beverage to every social and economic class.

     Along with China, black tea production has expanded to other parts of the world. India, Sri Lanka, and Africa have become prevalent producers in the last century. Now, black tea makes up 90% of the tea sold and consumed in the United States. It has become a beloved beverage for its bold flavor, caffeine kick, and many health benefits. Black tea can be brewed in a variety of ways and pairs well with many different flavor additives. It is a base for many of our best-sellers and is a personal favorite here at Hackberry.

Brewing Ratios & Temperature

     If you are new to the tea world, it can be intimidating to figure out how to brew tea the correct way, especially when the different tea types require specific measurements, steep times, and water temperatures. One of the most essential and straightforward rules for tea brewing is to use clean, filtered water. The quality of the water is almost as important as the tea itself. Tap or low-quality water can negatively alter the flavor profile of the tea. Black tea, which is the most oxidized or processed of all the tea types, can withstand and flourish with higher brewing temperatures. If the water is too cold, the flavor and caffeine molecules will fail to extract. The ideal brewing temperature for most black tea is 200-205°. Darjeeling black tea is one of the exceptions since it is not as oxidized and only requires a brewing temperature of 185-195°. After the water reaches a boil, you should let it cool down for a just a few seconds before combining it with the tea leaves. Adding freshly boiled water to the leaves can cause them to burn and become bitter much quicker.

     Now that we have a better understanding of the water and temperature requirements, let’s change our focus to the loose-leaf tea. Typically, a bold, delicious cup of black tea requires 1-2 teaspoons of tea leaves per 8 ounces of water. The tea to water ratio is essential to the overall taste of the brew. Too little tea and the flavor will be diluted; too much tea and the cup will taste incredibly bitter. When the tea leaves and hot water are combined, you want it to steep for 3-5 minutes. If you want a more robust flavor, add more tea; do not increase the steep time. While the tea is steeping, the aroma and flavor are the first to develop. The caffeine and tannin particles will release shortly after, about two minutes into the brew. Tannins provide the astringent flavor and health benefits in tea. It is essential to set a timer while steeping because even just a minute past the preferred steep time can cause the tea to be undrinkable.

Check Out our Brewing Guide for the Different Tea Types

Different Ways to Brew Black Tea

     There are several techniques you can use to brew tea. From teabags to loose-leaf, infusers to kettles, there are various methods to produce a delicious cup. As a seller of loose-leaf tea, that is our preferred style of tea to brew. This technique is a little more hands-on and requires more thought, but in our opinion, it produces more aroma and flavor. Since the loose-leaf tea is not contained like a teabag, you want to use a filter bag, infuser, or steeper to keep the tea leaves enclosed while brewing. We prefer using an electric kettle or one that you can heat over the stove for boiling water. Whichever you choose to use, it is most helpful to operate a water heating tool that contains a thermometer feature.

     The proper first step to brewing tea is preheating the mug or teapot before placing the tea leaves inside. You can do that by adding some hot water, giving it a couple of swirls, and then pouring the water out before adding the tea. This technique will keep the cup temperature consistently warm during the brewing process. Using the tea and water ratio discussed above, you will put the contained tea leaves into a mug and then pour hot water to steep. After no more than 5 minutes, you will have the perfect brew!

     Along with its bold and malty flavor, black tea is loved for its versatile brewing methods. It is extremely customizable and can be enhanced by adding milk, sweeteners, spices, fruit, etc. Note that if you add non-dissolving sweeteners like a cane or raw sugar, make sure to add it to the cup during the steeping process. Iced or cold brew are two of our favorite ways to drink black tea, especially during the hot Arizona summers. To brew it iced, you will need to infuse twice as much tea and after steeping, add 8 oz of cold water. Chill the tea in the fridge for a few minutes and then serve over ice with a lemon slice for some extra flair.

Click Here to Discover our Versatile Selection of Black Teas

Our Favorite Black Tea Recipes

London Fog Latte *One Serving

     Also known as an Earl Grey Latte, this beverage is creamy, sweet, with a touch of bergamot citrus from the Earl Grey. Although London is in the name, it originated in the Pacific Northwest and became popular when Starbucks added it to their menu. Here is our equally delicious interpretation!

What You’ll Need:

  • 2 teaspoons Earl Grey or Lavender Earl Grey
  • 8 oz filtered water
  • 1 cup milk (can be a dairy-free alternative)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract or syrup
  • ½ teaspoon dried lavender or lavender extract *Not needed if you are using Lavender Earl Grey

Instructions:

  1. Scoop the loose-leaf tea into an infuser or filter bag and place it in a 12 oz mug (this way, you have enough room for milk/toppings). If you are using dried lavender, add it with your black tea.
  2. Add water to the kettle and heat until it reaches 200-205°. Pour 8 oz of water over the tea leaves and steep for 3-5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the milk and vanilla to steam and froth. If you do not have a milk steamer, stir over medium heat in a saucepan until you see little bubbles form.
  4. Remove steeper or filter bag and pour the desired amount of steamed milk into the mug.
  5. Top it off with some dried lavender garnish for the perfect Instagram photo.

* To brew it iced, you will need to infuse twice as much tea and after steeping, add 8 oz of cold water. Chill the tea in the fridge for a few minutes, pour over ice, and then add the unheated milk/vanilla mixture on top.

Raspberry Lemon Iced Tea *2-4 Servings

     This tea is the perfect refreshment for a hot summer day. Honestly, we would drink this all year round. Raspberry and lemon are the ideal pair of tart and sweet. Add some rich, black tea, and you have a wonderfully, delicious beverage!

What You’ll Need:

  • Juice of 4 lemons + plus some sliced for garnish
  • 1-2 teaspoons black tea of your choice
  • 2 cups water + ¼ cup for raspberry syrup
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries + some extra for garnish
  • 1 cup sugar or honey

Instructions:

  1. Mix the raspberries, sugar, and water in a saucepan, and bring to boil. Lower the heat, and simmer until berries are softened. Let it cool and add syrup to a jar or pitcher.
  2. Scoop the loose-leaf tea into an infuser or filter bag and steep in 2 cups of boiled water (200-205°) for 5 minutes.
  3. Remove or strain the tea leaves and pour brewed tea in with the jar or pitcher of raspberry syrup. Add lemon juice and stir to combine.
  4. Let the tea mixture cool completely in the refrigerator.
  5. Once cooled, pour the tea over ice and top it off with some lemon and raspberry garnish. Enjoy!

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