Red or Black?
The infusion is red, orange or brown, but why are they called black?
In the Far East, black tea has always been called red tea, because of the colour of the liquid it gives. Then why is it black tea to the West?
Before the first documentation of the first red tea in 1732, Europeans had been buying tea from Wuyi, where oolongs had been documented as the major tea for export for at least half a century. The Chinese name for oolong has always been black dragon, after the appearance of traditional oolongs such as Wuyi and Phoenix. ( Half-bead type oolongs were not invented yet ). It is logical to presume that the word black was used in the early exports. In contrast with the other major category — green tea, oolongs were first named as black tea.(note)
When red tea first appeared, the dried leaves appeared similarly as oolongs ( most still do ). Unlike traditional oolongs, which were only partially oxidised and thus could taste quite strong when infused wrongly, the new comer tasted much easier and sweeter, especially to the lesser trained tongues in most of the European population then. It was an instant commercial hit, coupling with the culture and politics at that time. Naturally the name black tea was transferred to describe the new category and oolong ceased to appear in the West until recent years with it romanised name.
Whether you prefer to call it black or call it red, this category of tea is relatively much easier to infuse, easier to understand and enjoy. I am referring to the quality we carry.
This year, we have worked hard to extend our black tea collection to include some currently popular varieties, such as our Dianhong line. The quality of a few of our existing selections, such as our Keemun Traditional Supreme has also been much elevated for our more discerning customers. New selections are planned and will be launched from time to time. Do check them out on our black tea page: Black Tea Collection
The naming and history of black tea have had their fair share of debates, mostly laced with myths and pure opinions. For a more studied idea of its background, please refer to my writing in the history of black tea, Anxi and Wuyi oolong in the Tea Guardian site.