Looking for the best possible black tea to make a creamy latte, serve at the afternoon tea party, or to give you a morning energy boost? With thousands of flavors, shapes and types, the task of choosing the best one is not as easy as it sounds. Our guide will help you find the best black tea to suit your needs and taste buds.
What is black tea?
Black tea is a fully oxidized type of tea. It’s made from Camellia sinensis tea plant. All real teas are made from the same plant, although there are different tea plant varieties and thousands of different cultivars. And that’s why every black tea is different. Not only will the flavor depend on plant type but also on many other factors:
- Growing conditions
- Age of the leaves
- Harvesting method
- Processing methods, etc.
That’s why every black tea will be different. Even if you know you want to drink Assam black tea, there are thousands of Assam teas, and they will all have different flavor notes, leaf sizes, scents and even strength. However, it’s possible to make a general tasting notes and determine the strength of teas coming from a certain area and produced using certain techniques.
And then, there are tea blends. When choosing traditional tea blends, you always know what you can expect. Traditional blends are English Breakfast teas, Irish Breakfast teas, Earl Grey teas, Russian Caravan teas and others. For all other blends, guessing the flavor could be more difficult. However, if you check what the base tea is, you can know how strong it will be, and what you might expect.
What are the most popular black teas and their flavors?
Although every tea producing country is making black tea, some countries have a strong tradition that has greatly influenced the tea drinking world. When talking about black tea, the most well-known tea producers are India, China, Sri Lanka and Kenya. India is probably the most popular black tea producer when it comes to breakfast blends. Teas from Assam are strong, malty, rich, and great with milk. Darjeeling teas are highly prized in the tea world for its muscatel and floral flavor. Sri Lankan or Ceylon teas are lighter, often more floral and astringent, and make for a great cup of afternoon tea. Kenyan black teas are common in tea blends, and China makes some of the best premium black teas in the world. They can have notes of rich ripe fruit, chocolate, honey and smokiness.
What makes a black tea the “best”?
What is best for one tea drinker doesn’t need to be the best for others. Super high quality doesn’t always mean the best. The best black tea will be the one that will meet all your brewing goals, flavor preferences, and ultimately make you happy. Thankfully, the world of black tea is bursting with flavors. Sometimes, even pure unflavored and unscented teas can have such intense notes that you will assume they have been flavored.
Ideally, all teas, regardless of their price, leaf shape or size, harvesting time and method should be of a good quality. Good quality means they will be fresh, they won’t contain dust and fannings (those are reserved for tea bags), they will have a lot of scent, especially once you place them into a heated teapot, color of the infusion will be attractive and they will have a lot of flavor–even if they are light.
How to Choose the Best Black Tea
To choose the best black tea, ask yourself the following questions:
1. What are your expectations?
For example, tea you will choose purely for the benefits or caffeine boost may be different from the tea you will choose for a sophisticated tea party. Tea that you want to use for making milk tea can even be of a lower quality than tea you want to brew using a gaiwan.
2. Which kind of flavor you prefer?
Tea can have hundreds of different flavors. Pure high quality loose leaf tea can have notes of chocolate, tobacco, pinewood, honey, ripe fruits, etc. Flavored teas can offer almost any taste you could imagine.
3. How do you want to brew your tea?
Do you want to brew your tea as quick as possible or do you want to enjoy the brewing process? If you plan to indulge in a simplified home tea ceremony, high quality unbroken tea leaves will be a better choice. On the other hand, small broken leaves work well in brewing makers such as Keurig.
Our Black Tea Recommendations
Best for Milk Tea
For making a proper milk tea, you will need strong tea leaves. They will need to brew a dark and rich cup, that will have enough flavor to blend well will a lot of milk. Milk teas can be made with real milk, but they are often mixed with condensed or evaporated milk–like Hong Kong milk tea. The best teas for making milk teas are either bold Assam tea leaves, Kenya GFOP, Ceylon teas such as Super Pekoe or Nuwara Eliya Estate black tea. To make the best cup of milk tea, always use a bit more leaves and steep for a bit longer.
Best Chai Black Tea
Chai is an Indian milk tea. It’s made with strong black tea, milk, sugar and often spices–masala chai. To make the best cup of chai tea, you will need a strong black tea. Assam works very well, especially the one with smaller broken leaves such as Organic Assam, Golden Mangalam, or Decaf Assam if you want a caffeine free chai.
Best Black Tea Blend
There are thousands of different black tea blends. Some are sweet, some are light, some are fruity and some are citrusy. Before you decide which tea to buy, always check the ingredients. Blends with broken leaves will brew into a stronger cup. Next, do you want to drink your tea with milk? Then choose creamy blends with vanilla, chocolate, nutty and honey notes such as Irish Cream, Honeyed Black tea or Simple Vanilla Black. Do you prefer fruity flavors? For example, Tropical Black, Black Currant Decaf or Prickly Pear Black are great for cold brewing and making iced teas.
Best Traditional Black Tea Blend for Afternoon Tea Party
Traditional blends are great for afternoon tea parties and when you need the best tea for any occasion. Many people will like them, and if you can’t decide on the right tea, you can’t go wrong with any of them. English Breakfast is a traditional black tea blend with high caffeine content and it’s strong enough to accompany any meal. It goes well with milk and sugar. Earl Grey is another classic blend, scented with citrusy bergamot oil. It tastes great with many dishes and you can drink it with both lemon and milk. Russian Caravan is a classic smoky blend of black and oolong tea. It’s one of top teas for afternoon tea parties as well.
Best Black Tea for Energy Boost
If you are looking for a black tea with a high caffeine content, opt for Assam. And not just any Assam. The smaller the particles, the more caffeine will be in your cup. CTC types of teas are likely to release more caffeine as well.
Best Black Tea if You Want Something Unique
Some teas are really unique. Two delicious examples are African Purple, a blend made from purple tea, a unique Kenyan tea plant with high levels of anthocyanins. Another great tea is Lapsang Souchong from the Chinese Fujian province, a smoky black tea with intense pine wood scent and flavor.
Best Black Tea for Baking
You can use black tea for baking too. How? You can either make a tea syrup and add it to your deserts, brew a tea, concentrate and add to creams, or powder the leaves and use them in different recipes or for dusting your cookies. The best tea for making tea syrups will be intensely flavored black teas and chai teas. The best for making a tea concentrate is a tea with a strong flavor such as Honeyed Black Tea, Summer Nights, or pure Organic Assam. And for dusting? The best teas will be unique types such as smoky lapsang souchong, delicious Earl Grey or Blue Lady Grey.
Best Black Tea Holiday Flavors
Looking for the best flavors to get you in the holiday mood? Look for ingredients such as chocolate, spices, cinnamon, gingerbread, or other spices. Our favorites are Holiday Black, Pecan Praline, Apple Cinnamon Black, Anise Pear and Chocolate Chai Black.
What Country Has the Best Black Tea?
It’s impossible to say which country has the best black tea. All tea producing countries, and there are over 70 of them today, produce black tea. Countries that have been producing tea for centuries will usually offer a wide range of qualities and flavors. Some of them may be mass produced for blending, while other may come from smaller producers that hand-harvest their leaves. New tea producing countries may offer less traditional flavors. What’s interesting about tea is that many times you can recognize the country from the flavor profile, scent and color. Terroir will always be present in each and every cup.