Surely we have all heard of China’s many illustrious teas. Green tea in all its various forms, white tea, the flamboyant Oolongs, and the mysterious Pu’erh. One tea some Western readers, in particular, may be a bit intrigued by might be Chinese Red Tea. What is Chinese Red Tea? How is Chinese red tea harvested and processed? What is Chinese red tea good for? Might all be questions readers unfamiliar with Chinese red tea might ask. So let us unravel the mystery of this tea.
What is Chinese Red Tea?
First, Chinese red tea is a type of “true tea.” This means any tea leaves made from the camellia sinensis plant indigenous to China, northern regions of Southeast Asia and northern India. Other camellia sinensis leaf teas include green, white, Oolong and Pu’erh tea, just to name a few!
How is Chinese red tea different from others?
But how does one get “red tea” instead of “green tea” from the same plant? While many factors and variables come into play when cultivating tea such as climate, region, terroir, weather, and plant cultivar and variant, one of the biggest factors has to do with oxidization.
Oxidization of tea leaves is a process that includes allowing the leaves to dry and soak up additional oxygen. This process is similar to fermentation and results in chemical reactions taking place in the leaves. The longer tea is left to oxidize, the darker the leaf and liquor color will be.
For example, white and green tea are two of the least (and in some cases, never) oxidized teas out there. They usually have whitish-yellow to verdant green leaves and slightly yellow to deep jade liquor. Meanwhile, red and pu’erh, two of the more oxidized variety of leaves available will range from reddish-brown to an almost dark black leaf color and liquor that can take on hues of mahogany and even an almost maroon color in some cases.
The flavor will also be affected. Less oxidized leaves tend to be a bit lighter while moving down the oxidization scale leads to deeper, more robust, stronger, and in some cases, savory flavors, hints, aromas, and notes. Sometimes further oxidization can also result in higher caffeine levels, hence why Chinese red tea is enjoyed all over the world as a breakfast tea.
Why it is called “red tea”?
Some readers may be wondering, “red tea?” I have never heard of that! Actually, in most Western languages, Chinese red tea is called “black tea,” while in most East Asian languages, it is still known as “red tea.” This split in colors for the tea names goes back to some of the first European traders in China.
While red tea in Asia was named because of the tea’s liquor color, which is usually a deep red to reddish-brown, the Europeans, having only seen the tea leaves, called it “black.” This was also to differentiate between green tea leaves, which were already known in Europe by that time.
Spread across the global
The origins of red tea in China are much older, however, and many stories and legends surround the discovery of red tea. Some versions include an invading army disrupting and prolonging the normal oxidization period for standard green tea, which led to a peculiar result of darkened leaves possessing a red tea liquor. Not long after black tea’s inception, it became a popular and important commodity throughout Asia.
Because red tea was oxidized longer than green tea, it could also be stored and carried for longer periods without spoiling. This made it ideal for long and arduous journeys around the Tibetan Plateau and steppes of Central Asia in particular. In some regions where leafy greens and vegetables were a scarce commodity, black tea leaves would serve as a dietary supplement and additional staple food.
Today, red tea is one of the most consumed beverages in the world, with Sri Lanka producing a great deal of quality red tea, known as Ceylon black tea, made from the Assamese tea plant variant’s leaves. Chinese red tea is also renowned, especially Keemun and Lapsang souchong.
How is Chinese red tea harvested and processed?
The harvesting and processing methods used for red tea vary by region and country, but all of them certainly include an extended period when the leaves are allowed to oxidize.
This may consist of keeping the leaves in oxygen and heat controlled rooms. It may also include twisting or rolling the leaves beforehand to supplement and enhance the oxidization. This is often the case with Chinese tea of any kind and certainly red tea as well.
For Chinese red tea like Lapsang Souchong, smoking the leaves over flames fed by the wood of pine trees enhances and supplements the process, too. This also results in Lapsang’s distinct and wonderful piney and smoky aroma and hints.
What is red tea good for?
Chinese red tea also boasts a whole catalog of health benefits. Just like its cousin green tea, red tea has a ton of antioxidants. Antioxidants help fight free-radicals, which roam around our body causing cell damage and oxidative stress.
Red tea also promotes healthy heart functions and proper blood flow and circulation. Red tea has caffeine, slightly more than green tea, on average.
Caffeine can boost physical performance, mental focus, and awareness, and even hasten our metabolism, aiding in weight loss. Red tea can help bolster our immune system and can help guard against developing certain types of diseases, including some forms of cancer.
How do you make Chinese red tea?
To make and enjoy red tea, one must use a teapot that can allow for high heat retention. Red tea leaves are tougher and hardier than green or white and require higher heat and longer steeping. Red tea’s flavor can be somewhat strong, too!
Hence why many red tea drinkers enjoy theirs with honey, milk, lemon, or as a tea blend. English and Irish breakfast tea, as well as Earl Grey, are both Western variations of red tea, and masala chai is a fabulous herbal drink made with red tea, typically Indian, Nepalese, or Sri Lankan Assamese tea leaves. Chinese Red Tea, however, is best enjoyed with whole leaves, as opposed to bagged tea. This allows the full experience of the tea’s aroma, hints, flavors, and notes.
Chinese red tea is healthy, delicious, and a great alternative to coffee or other types of tea. Why not brew up a stunning pot of Chinese red tea today? You may find your new favorite beverage!