Black tea is arguably the most popular form of tea in Western culture. Iced tea, sweet tea, and the refreshing Arnold Palmer are almost always made with black tea. English teas such as Earl Grey or Breakfast Tea are black tea blends. The common Lipton bags you find at the local diner, you guessed it, consist of black tea.
- Top Black Tea Reviews
- Best Black Tea Overall: Positively Tea Company, Organic Assam
- Best Black Tea for the Money: Organic English Breakfast Black Tea Bags
- Best Cheap Black Tea: Twinings of London Earl Grey Black Tea
- Best Decaffeinated Black Tea: Harney & Sons Decaffeinated Hot Cinnamon
- Best Unique Black Tea Blend – Kusmi Tea Prince Vladimir Russian Tea
- History of Black Tea
- What is Black Tea?
- Black Tea Processing
- Varieties of Black Tea
- Black Tea from India
- Black Tea from China
- Black Tea from Sri Lanka
- Black Tea from Africa
- Black Tea Blends
- How to Prepare Black Tea
- Black Tea Storage
Top Black Tea Reviews
As a true tea, along with its brethren white, green, and oolong tea, black tea is an excellent basic tea to start with while exploring the options available to tea drinkers.
Beyond the typical tea bags available in the closest supermarket, there are excellent black tea choices that have different flavors and aromas you might not expect. Black tea can also be found as a base tea in herbal tinctures and flavored teas.
All of the “true” teas are made from the same plant, the Camellia sinensis. The only difference between them is the level of oxidation, or fermentation, that is provided to the leaves.
Black tea is completely oxidized, and is the darkest of the four with arguably the strongest flavor. When brewed correctly with quality leaves, it is also one of the most delicious of all the teas.
Most black tea is classified by its country of origin. Cultivation is dominated by China, India, and Sri Lanka. We’ve gone through and reviewed the best black tea choices and compiled a list of the top rated ones.
Best Black Tea Overall: Positively Tea Company, Organic Assam
It is a complex and textured black tea, traditionally enjoyed as a breakfast tea. This black tea blend is high in caffeine, which is why it is more commonly had in the mornings rather than afternoons or evenings.
This organic tea has a single origin in Assam, India. The sweet and robust flavor is preserved by a resealable pouch.
- This complex, textured black Assam tea has smooth top notes with sweet and robust flavor. Grown in Assam India, this organic black tea is traditionally enjoyed as a breakfast tea.
- TEA TYPE: Organic Black Tea, CAFFEINE LEVEL: High, TASTING NOTES: Sweet, Smooth, Complex, CERTIFICATION: USDA Certified Organic, ORIGIN: India
- INGREDIENTS - 100% Organic Assam TGFOP Black Tea
- SERVINGS - 1 pound of Organic Assam TGFOP Black Tea will yield approximately 150 - 240 cups of tea, depending on brewing measurements.
- BENEFITS - Our organic loose leaf Assam TGFOP Black Tea is naturally high in antioxidants, polyphenols, amino acids, vitamins, minerals, caffeine and contains no additives, preservatives or colorants - simply 100% organic black Assam tea and positivi-tea! 100% money back guarantee.
Positively Tea Company focuses on providing specialty loose leaf teas from all over the world. All of their teas are fresh and do not contain artificial flavors, harsh chemicals, or GMOs.
When brewing, it’s recommended that you steep it at 212 degrees Fahrenheit for three minutes.
- Loose Leaf or Tea Bags: Loose Leaf
- Packaging: Resealable Pouch
- Country of Origin: India
- Other Notes: USDA Organic
Best Black Tea for the Money: Organic English Breakfast Black Tea Bags
English breakfast is a classic black tea blend that works well at any time of the day. These Organic English Breakfast Black Tea Bags are filled with a premium blend of clak teas. They mix keemun tea from Chinese and Assam tea from India to create an excellent blend of smoothness and astringency.
As opposed to standard tea bags, the eco-conscious tea bag discs used by Feel Good Organics are made from unbleached hemp fiber, with no dyes or glue to interfere with the taste of the tea. The leaves used are certified USDA organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF).
- ENGLISH BREAKFAST BLACK TEA BAGS - 100 Tea Bags filled with a premium blend of black teas.
- ORGANIC CHINESE KEEMUN TEA & ORGANIC INDIA ASSAM TEA - The tea is blended, filled into tea bags and packed into foil-lined kraft bags in California
- 100 ECO-CONSCIOUS TEA BAGS - Our premium tea bags are constructed of Abacá Hemp Fiber Paper. They are free of dyes, adhesive, glue and chlorine bleach. No staples, strings, bags or extra waste - just delicious tea!
- CERTIFIED USDA ORGANIC - All our products are certified USDA Organic by California Certified Organic Farmers (CCOF), a leader in organic certification. Look for the USDA Organic seal on our products!
- LOVE IT OR WE BUY IT - We don't think you should pay for products that you don't love. If you aren't enjoying our Organic English Breakfast Tea, simply let us know and we will refund your order - it's as easy as that!
- Loose Leaf or Tea Bags: Tea Bags
- Packaging: Resealable Pouch
- Country of Origin: China/India/US
- Other Notes: USDA Organic
Best Cheap Black Tea: Twinings of London Earl Grey Black Tea
Brewing all the way from London, the Twinings of London Earl Grey Black Tea is a good contender for a warm and flavorful tea that’s light on the budget. With fragrant flavor notes of both citrus and bergamot, this earl gray tea comes in bags that are perfect for a quick pick-me-up on a mellow afternoon.
Not only does this drink warm up your heart and stomach, its tea leaves are also hand-picked by expert blenders who have cultivated them to create the perfect balance of smoothness and taste.
For an even more wholesome experience, these bags were created without any artificial flavorings. That way, you can enjoy your hot cup of freshly brewed tea with the natural sweetness of earl gray tea.
- FRESH FLAVOR: One box of 100 Earl Grey tea bags. Brighten up your day with the distinctive taste and aroma of this classic tea. Steep for three minutes for the perfect cup of earl grey tea.
- ONLY THE FINEST QUALITY: Our expert blenders source only the finest leaves cultivated to our exacting standards by trusted growers around the world. From these tea gardens we hand-select the leaves that will shape your next Twinings moment.
- EARL GREY TEA: Fresh, fragrant and flavored with distinctive notes of citrus and bergamot, this Earl Grey tea has all the taste of the original.
- RICH HISTORY: In 1706 Thomas Twining began selling fine tea from an English storefront in The Strand, London. Today, Twinings still sells some of the world's best teas from the original store and in more than 100 countries throughout the world.
- HAND SELECTED FOR YOUR HOME: Made without artificial ingredients, Twinings natural teas provide a wholesome tea experience. If you enjoy Bigelow Tea, Lipton Tea, Harney & Sons Tea, Davidson's Tea, or Prince of Peace Tea - try Twining's of London Tea.
Simply steep in hot water for 3 minutes or as strong or mild as desired.
- Loose Leaf or Tea Bags: Tea Bags
- Packaging: Box
- Country of Origin: London
- Other Notes: Prime Pantry
Best Decaffeinated Black Tea: Harney & Sons Decaffeinated Hot Cinnamon
For those who love the taste of black tea but would like to do without the effects of caffeine, Harney & Sons Decaffeinated Hot Cinnamon is an excellent choice. This decaffeinated Ceylon black tea maintains the taste and scent of the “real thing.”
Harney & Sons uses three different types of cinnamon, orange peels and sweet cloves in this blend. In addition to the flavor of Sri Lanka’s Ceylon black tea leaves and a brightness from the orange peels, the scent of cinnamon and clove are standouts.
- DECAFFEINATED TEA - Harney & Sons Decaffeinated Hot Cinnamon - Ceylon Black Tea with Three Types of Cinnamon, Orange Peels and Sweet Cloves - 50 Count Sachet Bag
- 50 COUNT - 50 Sachets per Bag
- FRAGRANT - Like its caffeinated counter-part, Harney & Sons Decaffeinated Hot Cinnamon Tea smells strongly of spices, particularly of cinnamon and clove.
- MASTER TEA BLENDERS - Harney & Sons has been sourcing and blending the finest gourmet teas since 1983
- CEYLON TEA - Fine quality crafted decaffeinated tea from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) is the base of this blend and is combined with orange peel, cloves, and ground cinnamon
- Loose Leaf or Tea Bags: Sachet
- Packaging: Resealable Pouch
- Country of Origin: Sri Lanka
- Other Notes: Decaffeinated
Best Unique Black Tea Blend – Kusmi Tea Prince Vladimir Russian Tea
Kusmi Tea Prince Vladimir Russian Black Tea is an interesting Russian blend of earl grey tea with vanilla and a multitude of different citrus fruits and spices. Bergamot, grapefruit, and lemon all come to the forefront when smelling this wonderful black tea blend.
Developed in in 1888 to celebrate the 900th anniversary of the Christianization of Russia by Vladimir the Great, Prince Vladimir tea is based off of a unique blend created by Pavel Kousmichoff. The leaves, spices, and citrus are all visible in the plant-based PLA tea bags so you can be sure of the quality of the product.
- LOOSE LEAF BLACK TEA: One of Kusmi's most memorable Russian teas, Prince Vladimir offers a truly royal blend of seductive aromas and spices.
- CITRUS, VANILLA & SPICES: A Russian blend of Earl Grey black teas with hints of bergamot, lemon, grapefruit, vanilla and spices to arouse your senses.
- THE PERFECT WAKE-UP: Caffeine never tasted so enchanting. Rise from your slumber to the alluring scent of fruit and spices in a classic black tea.
- ADD A SPLASH OF MILK: Enjoy a cup of Prince Vladimir with a side of fresh milk for a rich & delicious pick-me-up any time of day!
- REUSABLE TEA TIN: Kusmi Tea Products are packaged in decorative, reusable tea tins perfect for keeping loose-leaf tea fresh and delicious.
- Loose Leaf or Tea Bags: Tea Bags
- Packaging: Decorative Tin
- Country of Origin: China/Russia
- Other Notes: Plant-Based Tea Bags
History of Black Tea
Just as many new discoveries occur, the first black tea was a happy accident. Many sources reference the Ming Dynasty in the early 17th century when a tea factory faced a delayed production, brought on by an unexpected army sheltering there.
This delay caused the tea leaves to dry longer than normal, developing more oxidation. These darker, smokier leaves turned into a tea called Lapsang Souchong; named after the mountainous Lapsang area where the leaves were grown, and the Souchong small leaf trees that they were harvested from.
This first black tea was called “red tea” by the Chinese. Chinese black tea at the time was actually a post-fermented tea called Pu-erh, which still exists to this day. Dutch and British traders ended up using the term “black tea” due to the dry, dark leaves that were the product of the oxidation process.
This type of tea was popular as an export because the leaves kept their flavor during the long trip from China to Europe and the British Isles, and would often became better with a bit of age.
As tea became incredibly popular and the Dutch increased their grip on the Chinese tea market, British traders turned to different sources. They found a certain strain of Camellia sinensis that could be grown in bulk on farms in the Indian region of Darjeeling.
This strain produced a bolder black tea, the flavor that was popular in Great Britain, creating both a new source of income and a new national drink.
At around the same time, the British experimented with planting Camellia sinensis in Sri Lanka. The cool, consistent weather in the Sri Lankan central highlands provided an excellent location to grow black tea leaves, and now accounts for approximately $1.5 billion of their economy.
What is Black Tea?
Black tea is the result of heavily oxidizing leaves from the plant Camellia sinensis. As an example, green tea is only slightly oxidized up to 7%, and oolong tea oxidation is anywhere from 8% to 85%.
Black tea is categorized by any level of oxidation above 90%, but dried black tea leaves normally have 100% oxidation. With a strong and sometimes malty presence, black tea is definitely the most robust of all the true teas when it comes to flavor and aroma.
Loose Leaf Black Tea vs. Tea Bags
While tea bags are incredibly convenient, many of the standard grocery store tea bags use a dried out, lower grade tea leaf. That is not to say that these black teas are bad, but they may not have the same depth of flavor that you can get from loose black tea leaves.
With loose leaf black tea you will have the opportunity to view and smell the processed leaves directly, making sure that they are fresh and fragrant. These whole leaves will have more of the full flavor range of black tea when steeped.
Some tea bags contain whole leaves, and this can be an enticing balance between the standard CTC tea bags and loose black tea leaves. Be sure that the bag, or satchet, that the leaves are in provide enough room for the leaves to expand. Many tea bags can keep the leaves compressed as they expand in hot water, limiting their extraction.
Black Tea Processing
There are two main methods of processing for packaging and export for black tea leaves: the Orthodox method, and the Cut, Tear, and Curl (CTC) method.
Orthodox Black Tea Leaf Processing
The orthodox method is generally considered the proper way to handle tea leaves, but because of the extra steps the cost can be significantly higher. There are four main steps involved: withering, rolling, oxidation, and drying.
- Withering: After the leaves are picked, they are left out in the open air for 10-18 hours in order to dry out a bit so they can be rolled easily.
- Rolling: Leaves are rolled in a manner that twists and presses them to break the cell walls, expressing oils and preparing the leaves for oxidation.
- Oxidation: In a moist, controlled temperature environment, the black tea leaves are left to oxidize, breaking down the chlorophyll and changing the polyphenol levels.
- Drying: In order to stop the oxidation process, the black tea leaves are heated at temperatures above 100° Fahrenheit. Different methods are used, some by setting the leaves out in the sun, placing them in a machine, or heating them in a large pan.
CTC Black Tea Leaf Processing
The crush-tear-curl method is responsible for the majority of black tea bags available today. CTC processing creates shredded tea leaves and compressed pellets which can actually produce very good tea in the right circumstances.
CTC production keeps the withering and drying steps of the orthodox method, but the main difference is that the rolling step is replaced by a machine process that cuts the leaves into small pieces, more suitable for tea bags.
Varieties of Black Tea
Black Tea from India
While black tea may have originated in China, the bulk of modern black teas available in the West originate from India. The popular astringent flavor of this variety of tea is widely pronounced in Indian black tea leaves.
Assam Black Tea
The Assam region in India is the largest tea-growing region in the world. It is one of the strongest tasting black teas with a slightly astringent and malty flavor. This varietal is sometimes called the tea version of coffee.
Darjeeling Black Tea
From the high mountainous region of Darjeeling, this black tea keeps the astringency of Assam but has a more smooth, herbal flavor with a bit of a floral nose. You may also get a bit of fruit flavor with certain brews.
Nilgiri Black Tea
One of the lesser known names in Indian black tea production, Nilgiri tea has a sweeter taste with a more moderate body and is very fragrant. The plants that produce these leaves are grown in the Blue Mountains of India, which reaches up to 8000’ elevation.
Black Tea from China
Known as the birthplace of tea, China has a long history of processing the leaves of the Camellia sinensis.
Lapsang Souchong Black Tea
Considered the original Chinese red tea (later known as black tea), leaves produced in Lapsang Souchong have a smoky flavor. This was originally produced by campfires lit when caravans stayed near the tea factories, but is now recreated by the leaves being smoked over pine.
Yunnan Black Tea
Also known as Dianhong cha, Yunnan black tea is a lighter, smoother black tea with a slightly sweet taste. The color is closer to amber than black, and the taste is delicate yet flavorful.
Keemun Black Tea
This mild, light black tea has an interesting red color that looks very distinct in a teacup. Keemun, while mild in the sense of astringency, is also very flavorful and is considered a delicacy in China.
Black Tea from Sri Lanka
Since 1867, Sri Lanka has been producing and exporting tea leaves. A Scotsman named James Taylor planted the first farm in Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, on 20 acres near Kandy.
Ceylon Black Tea
The original name of Sri Lanka was “Ceylon,” hence the name of the tea. Because the name of this varietal spans an entire country, it is hard to define the specific flavor profile.
Ceylon tea leaves grown at a higher altitude are lighter in color and have a more mild flavor, while leaves from lower elevations tend to be darker with a more robust flavor.
Black Tea from Africa
In general, black teas from Africa are dark roasted and use the CTC (crush, tear, curl) method of processing. The end result is a bold, flavorful tea, but their leaves tend to have less bitterness than other teas produced in this way.
Kenyan Black Tea
Assamica varietals of Camellia sinensis, similar to the plants in India, produce the black tea from Kenya. This variety produces a red brew similar to the Chinese Keemun instead being a darker brown. The flavor is strong and bold but not bitter.
Black Tea Blends
Even though brewing with pure leaf is considered the classic way to drink tea, some of the most flavorful teas in the world are blends.
Earl Grey Tea
One of the most popular teas in the world, Earl Grey is a delightful blend of black tea and dried rind of the bergamot orange. Some Earl Grey blends will use the extracted oils from bergamot in addition to or as a replacement for the rind.
Bergamot oranges are a bit different than the standard mandarin oranges normally purchased in the states. The shape is closer to that of a lime, and the taste is somewhere between a grapefruit and lemon.
Earl Grey tea has the classic maltiness of black tea combined with very citrusy notes, reminiscent of orange and lemon with a floral tone.
English Breakfast Tea
The English breakfast tea blend is thought to have been originated by American settlers, not the British as the name would suggest. It is a full-bodied, rich and robust blend that stands up well to the addition of milk and sugar.
Normally blended with an assortment of different black teas, English breakfast tea usually combine Assan tea with Ceylon, Kenyan, or any of the well-known black teas. The only standard is the bold taste generally attributed to the style.
Irish and Scottish Breakfast Teas
Both of these variations of the English breakfast tea blend are stronger than the British version, in part because the softer water in those areas needing tea leaves that would help create a more bold taste.
Scottish breakfast tea is the strongest of the three, with Irish breakfast tea representing a good balance between them.
Masala Chai Tea
A blend of Assam black tea and various herbs and spices attributed to India. Some of the blends can contain ginger, cinnamon, pepper, or cloves, but the one ingredient that gives all Chai blends its famous flavor is cardamom.
Masala Chai is another very potent black tea blend and it is highly recommended to add milk to give it a creamy finish.
How to Prepare Black Tea
Since black tea is so robust, many people feel that they can just dump boiling water on the tea leaves or bag and let it sit for long periods of time. This will produce a very strong tea, but they will be over-extracting the tannins inherent in black tea oxidations, adding bitter notes that may not be pleasing to most.
Adding a bit of effort to the brewing process of black tea can make for a more enjoyable experience.
Best Water for Black Tea
High quality water is always recommended when brewing black tea. Natural spring water, if available, is an excellent choice, as is bottled water. Never use distilled water, it will produce a flat tea that will let the flavors fully develop.
Water straight from the tap will depend highly on the local water supply and the amount of chemicals used to keep the water clean. Filtered tap water will do in a pinch, whether from an inline filtration system or a stand-alone filter like the Brita Pitcher.
Water Temperature for Brewing Black Tea
Water temperature is a very important factor in extracting the best flavors from black tea.
Because black tea leaves are fully oxidized and contain a large amount of tannins, higher water temperatures should be used while brewing as opposed to the lower temperatures required of green or oolong teas.
An electric kettle with temperature control can be a good investment if you drink black tea often, and becomes even more handy if there are multiple types of teas you drink on a regular basis. These tea kettles are able to heat and hold to specific temperatures, taking the guesswork out of brewing tea.
The general temperature range for black tea is from 200°-212° Fahrenheit, or 94°-100° Celsius. Consult the black tea leaf packaging, or ask the seller what temperature they recommend for brewing.
If no specific temperature is given, a good rule of thumb is to bring water to a rolling boil, remove from heat and let it sit for about a minute.
Instructions for Brewing Black Tea
- Begin to heat water in the tea kettle.
- Measure approximately 2 tablespoons of loose black tea per 6 ounces of water
- Transfer the leaves to a tea ball, strainer, or infuser.
- Place the infuser in a cup or teapot.
- When the water is at the correct temperature, pour the desired amount over the tea leaves.
- Let steep as per the manufacturer’s instructions. If no instructions are provided, steep for at least 3 minutes, but do not go beyond 5 minutes.
- Remove leaves from the teapot and serve.
Black Tea Storage
When storing loose black tea leaves, the main enemies of preservation are sunlight, heat, oxygen, and moisture. Be sure to choose a vessel that is air and water-tight, blocks ultraviolet rays, and keep it in a cool, dark place.
One of the ways to extend black tea leaf preservation is to keep the leaves in a refrigerator. If you do this, it is very important that your storage vessel does not let any air in. Tea can easily absorb odors from other foods that are stored in the refrigerator.