China is the largest tea drinking nation and the motherland of all tea.
In the “western” world, tea is synonymous with black tea, so it is quite easy to assume Chinese also loves black tea as much as their western counterparts.
The truth is far from this. Chinese loves green tea, then oolong. Chinese black tea is not big in China.
But before we start talking about Chinese Black Tea, please allow me to confuse you: by Chinese black tea, we mean Chinese “RED” tea.
In Chinese tea categorisation, Chinese black is really Chinese red.
Black tea in Chinese tea categorisation is Pu-erh. For clarity in this article, all Chinese red we are referring as Chinese black tea.
Yes I see a hand raising at the back with a burning question: Why do they call it red? Chinese black is called Chinese red because of the infusion colour.
Chinese red tea goes through the same process as a standard black tea and its pivotal process, oxidation (some refers as fermentation), gives the black tea as its unique taste, along with a coppery reddish tone in its brew, hence the tea categorisation name.
It can be produced from tea buds to leaves with fairly acceptable, saleable quality. Its simple production process means less time and fuel cost, making black tea production a very popular tea type to produce in many parts of the world nowadays. The steps are:
- curling (and kneading)
- piling up and cover for fermentation (normally 2 to 3 hours, 7 to 8 hours in Xiao Zhong varieties)
- twisting (only in certain varieties)
Chinese black tea originated from Fu Jian, some time around the 16th century. These are 3 typical types of Chinese red tea:
Congou (aka Gongfu) typically features small leaves with a tint of sweetish-smokiness. Some compare it to a fine red wine! Keemun black tea, a fine example of Congou, is sometimes referred as Keemun Congou. Congou implies the complex work involved in making the tea. Another beautiful congou is Lychee Red, which is often served in southern Chinese household.
Souchong The most well known Lapsang Souchong is a fine example of Souchong, which carries a bold smoky flavour achieved by smoking the tea with pine needles which smells and tastes like fine cigar or burnt tyres depending on your personal liking! (Men love it! This tea is mainly produced for export.)
Yunnan Red is by far the most mesmerising in my book of Chinese red tea. The better ones like Yunnan Gold, Yunnan Dian Hong) are not black but camel colour (or latte colour) and the taste is bold, tiny bit smoky yet sweet like caramelised sugar. It is quite magical, hard to describe and so easy to drink anytime of the day. Its origin is the Yunnan province, where you can still find virgin hillsides and young tea workers in their traditional tribal clothing.
Generally speaking, Chinese black tea has lower tannin than its Indian and Ceylon black tea.
Brewing is just the same as with any black tea with water just come to boil. Overbrewing any tea is iffy. If you like your tea strong, double the tea leaves used. Simple as that.