Black tea is the most consumed type of tea in the world. It’s highly popular in both Eastern and Western countries, and indispensable in making many traditional blends or drinks – from breakfast blends to milky teas. Find out what are the most popular types of black tea.
How many black tea types are there?
Black tea is a fully oxidized tea made from Camellia sinensis plant. Just like with green tea, there are hundreds of thousands of black tea types in the world. Black teas are usually categorized by country and specific production area. Furthermore, they can be divided into a few different categories depending on the harvesting season, production processes and leaf quality.
Black tea can be made from different Camellia sinensis varietals and cultivars. Most black teas are made from Camellia sinensis var assamica, tea plant with larger leaves and usually more caffeine than Camellia sinensis var sinensis plant. This plant is highly popular in Indian Assam, and Chinese Yunnan. Assamica has a stronger and bolder flavor. It’s often very easy to distinguish between these two types. However, recognizing different cultivars may be more difficult.
Black tea is fully oxidized, with only a few exceptions. Oxidation changes the leaf color, flavor, and composition. The most basic categorisation of black teas is into CTC and orthodox types. CTC or crush-tear-curl types have very small crushed leaves, and orthodox types have bigger leaves that may or may not be broken.
Black Tea Varieties
The most popular and famous black teas come from India, Sri Lanka and China. However, many other countries are making black tea, including Australia, England and USA. African black teas with their strong and bold flavor are highly popular too.
Indian Black teas
India is one of the biggest and important tea producers in the world. Although tea production is not as old as in China, it gained the world-wide recognition with many teas, especially Assam and Darjeeling. Many tea blends would be unimaginable without Indian teas.
Read more: Best teas from Indian tea regions
Assam tea is probably the world’s most famous tea made from assamica plant. However, there are thousands and thousands of Assam teas, each with a slightly different flavor profile, but almost always robust, full-bodied and malty. Assam tea is perfect for making milky teas. It’s strong, easy to brew and always goes well with sugar and milk.
Read more: Assam tea guide
Darjeeling or the champagne of tea is a tea grown in Darjeeling in India. Unlike Assam tea, it’s made from Camellia sinensis var sinensis. It has a unique muscatel flavor with floral notes, and brews into a lighter cup. Darjeeling teas can be harvested at different times of the year, but the first and second Darjeeling flushes are considered the best.
Read more: Darjeeling tea guide
Chinese black teas
China, the cradle of tea, is producing some of the best black teas in the world. Many of them have a very long history and are available worldwide.
Lapsang Souchong tea
Lapsang souchong is a special type of black tea from the Wuyi region in Fujian province. Although lapsang souchong can be smoked and unsmoked, the traditionally smoked type with a distinctive pine wood smoke scent and flavor is unlike any other tea in the world. This tea is perfect for afternoon tea times, and goes well with desserts.
Read more: Lapsang souchong tea guide
Qimen or Keemun teas originate from Anhui province. Keemun tea used to be an important ingredient in many tea blends such as English Breakfast. Today, Qimen tea is often enjoyed on its own. It has a delicate fruity and light smoky note.
Read more: What is Keemun tea?
Dian hong tea
Dian hong black tea is a tea from Chinese Yunnan province. Dry leaves often contain a lot of golden buds and have a bold flavor with earthy and honey notes. Yunnan black tea is made from assamica tea plant.
Read more: Black teas from Yunnan
Sri Lankan black teas
Sri Lankan or Ceylon tea is another category of tea popular for a lighter but bolder, crisp flavor, often with floral notes. Ceylon teas can be grown on different altitudes. They usually have a lighter orange color and may have some bitterness too.
Read more: Ceylon Tea Guide
Orange pekoe is not a type of tea, but rather a type of leaf used for making different black teas. Today, the name orange pekoe usually hides a classic Ceylon black tea, usually medium bodied to full-bodied with sharp and bold flavor and lighter floral notes. Orange pekoe may come from India too.
Read more: What is Orange Pekoe tea?
Best Flavor/Scented or Blended Black Teas
Unlike green teas, black teas were traditionally used for creating some of the most popular blends in the world. Today, those blends can contain different types of tea, but will always have the same recognizable flavor notes.
English Breakfast is a blend of different black teas that brew into a strong, full-bodied cup with slightly malty flavor. Why only slightly? Because English breakfast will usually contain not only Assam teas, but other teas too – for example, Darjeeling.
Read more: English Breakfast tea guide
Earl Grey is a classic blend of one or more black teas and bergamot essential oil. It has a unique citrusy flavor. This tea is amazing for tea beginners and can be served with or without milk.
Read more: Best Earl Grey teas
Russian Caravan is a popular blend of different black teas with, usually, a smoky flavor. This blend was originally made with different Chinese teas, but today it can contain teas from other countries too. Russian Caravan will usually be a bit lighter than Assam tea and is likely to have fruity and smoky flavors.
Read more: Russian Caravan tea guide
Lychee black tea
Probably the most famous scented black tea in the world is Chinese lychee black tea. Black tea leaves are mixed with lychee until they infuse the scent and flavor of this unique tropical fruit. Lychee black tea is usually produced in Guangdong. It’s perfect for making iced tea.
Read more: Lychee tea guide
Although, technically, Masala Chai is not a tea type but a drink made from black tea leaves, spices, sugar and milk, today pre-made blends are available too. Chai Masala is an Indian milk tea, made with Assam black tea leaves, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon and other spices. It has a soothing and rich flavor.
Read more: 10 Chai Tea Health Benefits