What is Chinese Red Tea?
Red Tea 101 will bring you up to speed on the basics of red tea. Red Tea usually goes by the name "Black Tea" for English speakers - which can be confusing as Black Tea is a separate category of Chinese tea. Red tea is the most popular tea in the west, and is also full oxidized, unlike green tea which has no oxidization. Let's learn about what makes red tea so irresistible.
What is Red Tea?
Red tea (called Black tea in the west) is from the same plant as green tea - the Camellia Sinensis. Actually, all tea is from the same plant. The leaf is rolled or damaged to encourage oxygen exposure to enzymes in the leaf. This is sometimes called fermentation, but this is a misnomer, as there is no actual microbial fermentation. These changes dull the astringent nature of the green tea leaf, bring out sweet and dried fruit notes, and give Red tea it's distinctive red golden hue.
All red tea is full oxidized. In other words, the enzymatic potential in the leaf has been exhausted. As a result, we can say that red tea is 99%+ oxidized. The only other category of tea that shares this level of oxidization is Black Tea (such as Shou Puer) - which is fully oxidized and fermented.
- Green tea is not oxidized or fermented.
- Wu Long tea varies between 20-80%.
- Red tea is 100% oxidized.
What makes Red tea unique?
Red tea is the most popular category of tea in the West. In the late 1840's, the English Botanist on a mission to steal tea from China for the East India Company discovered that green and red tea were the same plant. He also discovered that the Chinese had been dying green tea with toxic chemicals (Prussian Blue and Gypsum Yellow.)
This factor may have played a role in the increasing dominance of Red tea in the west. Red tea also holds up better to added ingredients such as sugar and milk - a western favorite which also further popularized Red tea. Interestingly enough, Red tea was never popular in China, and was considered a subpar product. Though, it's popularity has grown in recent years..
How is Red tea made?
Red tea is processed in the following way:
- Leaves are picked then allowed to wither.
- Next, the leafs under-go a bruising process that ruptures the cell walls, allowing the enzymatic juices to coat the leaf, and become oxidized.
- The leaves are allowed to fully oxidize.
- The shaping process starts, forming the leaf in to whatever shape is required for the type of tea being manufactured.
- Finally the shaped leaves are dried to approximately 5% moisture to prevent mold or staleness
4 Famous Red Varieties
Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong (Lapsang Souchong)
From where: Wu Yi Shan, Fujian Province
Can taste like: Scotch! It's smokey and complex.
Qi Men (Keemun)
From where: Gu Niu Jiang, An Hui
Can taste like: Chocolate, sweet, rich.
Dian Hong (Red Yunnan)
From where: Yunnan
Can taste like: Dried fruits, sweet, honey.
Dian Chuan (Red Sichuan)
From where: Sichuan
Can taste like: Sweet Potato, sweet, umami.