Black tea A fully oxidized tea, black tea is produced in Kenya and many Asian countries, including Sri Lanka, China, and India. Much of the world’s black tea is grown for the tea bag industry, and it is often mixed with other types of tea to make blends, such as breakfast and afternoon, which are enhanced by the addition of milk and/or sugar.
The Chinese refer to black teas as “red teas” because of the color of the liquid. Black teas are brisk, malty, full-bodied, and bracing because of the rich flavors that develop during the oxidation process.
Black, or fully oxidized, teas tend to be full-bodied and rich. In general, they stand up to meats and heartier foods because of their assertive flavor and their tannin levels. There is an unexpectedly broad range of characteristics found in different black teas.
Assam, from northeast India, is valued for its pungency, rich red color, full-bodied flavor and mouth feel, and its characteristic maltiness.
It is often the base of Irish Breakfast blends, and is an exceptional breakfast choice because it has good levels of caffeine and adequate tannins to pair with sausages, buttery pastries, and other traditional breakfast foods.
It also makes an excellent base for a masala-style tea (chai), as it works well with a variety of spices and can hold its own with large quantities of milk.
It can be found processed as a CTC for that extra body and assertive-ness that is craved by those who like plenty of milk in their cuppa, or in a more complex and a bit less assertive Orthodox Style.
(Recently, the Assam region has also begun to produce other styles of tea including green teas; the above description is for the flavor profile of the classic Assam teas.)
CULINARY PAIRINGS: Assam pairs very well with dark chocolate, sharp cheeses, mushrooms, smoked fish and meats, eggs, spiced desserts such as carrot cake and gingerbread, or anything with cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, or caramel. It also works nicely with Mexican food and chilies. It adds a nutty depth of flavor to shortbread and pastry crusts.
Teas from the northern Indian region of Darjeeling are known for their complex, delicate flavors and aromas. “Single Estate” teas have long been available, when a particular estate and often a sub-harvest within that estate is too noteworthy to blend with other teas, but it is a newer trend in tea marketing to identify teas with the specific farm (also called estates and plantations) that grew them as a mark of distinction.
The distinctive differences that lead to Single Estate designations are seen more often in Darjeelings than in other teas. Darjeelings make excellent teas for pairing, as they work with a wide range of foods. There are many exceptional estates in this region; some of our favorites include Arya, Castleton, Giddapahar, Makaibari, and Namring.
First Flush: The spring harvest Darjeeling is delicate, perfumed, and relatively astringent, sometimes with a hint of muscatel. It should be enjoyed without milk as an afternoon tea.
CULINARY PAIRINGS: Pairs well with fresh fruits, especially strawberries, apples, raspberries, apricots, grapes, lemony items, and currants. Due to its astringency, it is very nice with soft cheeses, custards, and eggs. Salmon, grilled fish, polenta, and curries are also nice combinations.
Second Flush: The second flush (summer harvest) has a rounder flavor with a bit more muscatel and possibly a hint of nuttiness. It too is best enjoyed without milk and makes a lovely afternoon tea.
CULINARY PAIRINGS: Pairs well with fruit and soft cheeses. With its nuttiness and muscatel flavors, it can combine well with warmer spices like nutmeg, and with wild mushrooms, such as morels.
Autumnal Flush: The Autumnal Darjeeling is fuller still, sweeter with more pronounced muscatel, fruit, and nut flavors.
CULINARY PAIRINGS: Try this with milk chocolate, cinnamon, custards and other dairy dishes, fruits, nutty dishes, and with both softer cheeses and semi-soft cheeses like Gouda and Edam. It also goes well with sweeter vegetables such as carrots, squash, and sweet potatoes.
This scented black tea has become one of the most popular and commonly available teas in the West. Although at one time there was a very specific proprietary blend, today there are as many (if not more) Earl Grey blends available as there are breakfast blends.
What defines an Earl Grey is oil of bergamot, from the skin of a citrus plant with inedible fruit that resembles a tangerine. It is typically found in a medium-bodied black tea blend, but there are now bergamot-scented teas of all styles, including assertive black tea blends and green tea blends. Earl Grey blends vary by the quantity and quality of the bergamot oil used and the strength, balance, and quality of the base teas.
CULINARY PAIRINGS: Pairs well with a wide variety of baked goods, dairy, eggs, spices, bourbon, and chocolate.
(ORIGINALLY INDIA, NOW UBIQUITOUS)
Masala is a spice blend and chai literally means tea, so masala chai means spiced tea. The various spice blends seen in chai can be mixed within a variety of teas, although the most traditional base is northern Indian Assam, or a full-bodied aromatic southern Indian Nilgiri. In the United States, chai on its own has come to mean Indian masala chai.
There are numerous variations. The best masala chai teas are made by slowly steeping the spices in water separately from the tea or sometimes directly in milk to unleash the fat soluble components of the spices more effectively (see our recipe for Masala Chai). Many tea makers sell their own masala chais, but you can create your own using your choice of spices.
Masala chai is typically enjoyed sweetened at the end of a meal, or as an afternoon pick-me-up. Although much less common today, traditionally, chai-wallas (tea sellers) would hawk their wares to passengers on trains in India, selling their slow-simmered chai in disposable clay cups which customers would just throw out the window of the train when they finished drinking from them.
CULINARY PAIRINGS: Use it in custards and ice creams. Try with bread pudding or French toast, a wide variety of baked goods, or infused rum. It also goes well with grains such as rice and oatmeal, and with chocolate.
This beautiful region in southwest India produces bright, flavorful, and aromatic teas, which can be enjoyed with or without milk. They are excellent choices for iced teas as they hold their clarity when chilled better than many other teas. Black teas are the classic Nilgiris, but more recently they have produced some mid-level fermentation oolongs as well. These have the bright flavors of their black cousins but with even higher levels of aromatics and a nice dose of fruitiness.
CULINARY PAIRINGS: Nilgiri pairs well with vanilla, mushrooms, beef, chocolate, and raw vegetables. The oolong Nilgiri is also very nice with fruits, nuts, and milk chocolate.
This lovely tea is in short supply because it is grown on just one estate—Temi Estate—in this small Indian state just north of Darjeeling.
It is a wonderful tea similar to a high-end second flush Darjeeling but with less of a flowery nature and more fruitiness and body. It is best enjoyed without milk and makes a lovely afternoon tea. This tea can be used interchangeably with a Darjeeling.
CULINARY PAIRINGS: It goes well with fruity baked goods, delicate shortbread, fresh fruit, vanilla, ginger, lemon, smoked fish, and eggs.