What is Black Tea Friday?

I am shamelessly subverting the commercialization of Black Friday, calling it Black TEA Friday. Please join me in celebrating today a bit differently. It can be so much more than the first official shopping day of the holiday season. It can become the day when we relax after a day of traveling, cooking, feasting, and reconnecting with family and friends with a cup of black tea and consider the actual art and history and benefits of this beautiful tea. 

Why rename and reclaim the day?

Because black tea is the best-known kind of tea, it is often overlooked and thought of as being common. This is a serious misunderstanding on our part. And it is a loss for many who sip down a cup or glass of black tea without awareness or appreciation.

“Black tea… you mean Lipton…” I often hear.

And then it’s fun to share a respect for Lipton and other brands for whom the challenge is to blend dozens of different black teas each year to continue their signature flavor. I answer, “The teas are never the same year after year, so the blenders must calculate the percentages of teas from many different fields, perhaps many different countries.” The challenge of getting it right on the scale that Lipton operates is difficult to describe and almost impossible to imagine. Professional tea tasters are constantly selecting a range of new harvest that, when carefully – almostly scientifically – blended, produce that ubiquitous flavor. Don’t you all instantly recognize the difference between Lipton’s black tea and others? 

Cup of black tea. Glass teacup with light shining through brewed black tea.

Celebrating Black Tea

In The Everything Healthy Tea Book, I introduced the chapter on Black Tea with the comment,

Black tea is the boldest and most assertive of all the tea categories. A darker brew in the cup, the liquor tends to have a more intense aroma than green tea. Its strength is bracing and vibrant, brisk and warming, standing up to the slosh of milk without backing down, glistening in partnership with other flavors. The typically larger leaves, blackened from the abuse of processing and handling, unfurl gradually with a calm and dignified power.”   (page 105)

So, how can we celebrate? 

  1. Check your tea collection. Update what you have at hand. What black teas do you already have? Which is your favorite? Which ones have been hiding in the back corner? Do you remember where you bought it or who gave it to you? 
  2. Before you decide to toss out an old box or a least favorite, consider experimenting with blending and flavoring. Use it as practice material. 
  3. Bake, Baste or Boil something in black tea. Browse some of our Cooking With Tea articles or invent your own. And if you like it, share it with other Tea Sippers here on T Ching. 
  4. Try something new. As you read today’s article and learn something new, allow your curiosty to lure you to a totally new black tea flavor. Splurge!
  5. Share Black Tea Friday with a friend. Invite them to share tea with you, either in person or virtually. Yes, they might laugh but they might also enjoy a peaceful alternative to shopping.
  6. Read the rest of this article to discover something you may not have known about Black Tea.
  7. Plan what you might want to do for Black Tea Friday 2022. We’d love to hear what you have in mind. Submit your ideas with the T Ching Contact Page.
Green and Black loose-leaf tea leaves in a side-by-side comparison

The Art of Black Tea

The concise definition of black tea is that it is fully oxidized. But that assumes an understanding of the process of oxidation. And tea vocabulary can be confusing when black tea is referred to as fermented rather than oxidized. And it is relative to other kinds of tea where the processing is amended to prevent or control oxidation. Green tea has almost no oxidation and oolong teas are partially oxidized.

Oxidizing tea leaves involves manipulating them, bruising them, and heating them in a controlled environment so that the tiny cell walls of the fresh leaf break open. This allows the fluid inside each cell to be exposed to oxygen, darken, and become sweeter. This is in contrast to green tea where the art and skill of the makers are dedicated to preventing oxidation, to maintain the green color, flavor, and astringency. The plant, Camellia sinensis is the same, though different varietals are preferred for one kind of tea over another. 

Subtle differences in black teas involve the size of the leaf, the season the leaf is plucked, the country where it grows, the way the leaf is cut, or the effort to keep it whole. Some black teas include the fragile bud tip. Others are leaf only. Some black tea leaves are twisted while they are still supple before they dry. Others are finely chopped. Leaves are sometimes scented and blended. In other words, there are hundreds of black teas from which we can choose. So, from the black teas that are cut finely enough to be processed into convenient teabags to those that are rare, arriving in our care whole, we can take today to celebrate. 

Some things you might not know about Black Tea

First written records of Black Tea in China

While very little is known of the actual origins of Black Tea, it is known that black teas existed during the Ming Dynasty in the late 1500s and some speculate that the first factory to produce this tea commercially was on Lapu Mountain in the Wuyi Mountains of Fujian Province.  

Early tea exporters didn’t understand Black Tea

Tea became popular and in great demand in Europe before they understood anything about how it grew or was processed. But the British wanted to be able to break from their dependence on China by growing their own. They sent botanist, Robert Fortune to China to explore tea growing regions and figure out how it could be grown in land that they control. India. 

Robert Fortune, My Journey Through China

In my “Wanderings in China,” published in 1846, I made some observations upon the plants from which tea is made in different parts of China. While I acknowledged that the Canton plant, known to botanists as Thea bohea, appeared distinct from the more northern one called Thea viridis, I endeavoured to show that both black and green teas could be made from either, and that the difference in the appearance of these teas, in so far as colour was concerned, depended upon manipulation, and upon that only. In proof of this I remarked that the black-tea plant found by me near Foo-chow-foo, at no great distance from the Bohea hills, appeared identical with the green-tea plant of Chekiang. 

Bookplate from Robert Fortune's book

The First Black Tea in the United States

When the first Black Tea arrived in the United States in 1828, it was sometimes referred to as “burnt tea” to differentiate it from the green tea that Americans had been drinking since the late 1600s. But it gained popularity because it eliminated the astringency that can cause bitterness in green tea. 

Cooking With Black Tea

We have hundreds of recipes in our Cooking With Tea category. Many of them feature the use of black tea. One of them is by Chef Robert Wemischner, a delicious and elegant recipe for duck seasoned with tea.

Tea-Sauced Duck With Haunting Flavors. by 

In the deep, dark winter of our discontent, with tea like an old friend, it’s time to splurge a bit on a tea-sauced duck breast for dinner. Available at good markets, even if frozen, duck breast delivers the delicious duck flavor in a fraction of the time it would take to roast a whole duck. You can cook it safely to 155 degrees F. for a pink, still-moist interior. But apart from the duck’s tender richness, it’s the tea in the sauce that makes this a dish to celebrate. A good bottle of red wine and a fresh green salad will round out the dinner. A sprinkling of wild rice and some cubed and roasted root vegetables such as carrots and turnips on the plate couldn’t hurt. (Read All)