Looking for the best black tea but can't decide which black tea to choose? Here are the best black tea choices offering a hearty rich deep flavor.
The onset of Fall is the perfect time to explore the different flavors of the best black tea. Cooler nights and early sunsets always draw me in to enjoy a nice hot cup of tea. There are a few that stand out as classic favorites. Some of the best black teas I recommend here are naturally flavored while others get their flavor simply from their origin.
Thousands of tea estates around the world produce tea. Each estate crafts a unique tea based on the process and drying of the tea leaves. Each region gives its own distinctive flavor.
All black teas are fully oxidized, producing a hearty rich deep flavor of amber-colored liquor, making them perfect for fall. As always, the fresher the tea the better the tea experience.
Birthplace of the Best Black Tea
The Yunnan province of China is thought to be the birthplace of tea. Some of the wild-growing tea trees are purported to be about 1,700 years old, which is simply amazing. These trees are still giving after all these years. The old-growth Camellia Sinensis trees are never pruned.
The Yunnan province is also known for producing some of the very best black tea, more so than any other part of China.
My top five picks for the best black tea:
1. Black Dragon Pearl
Black Dragon Pearl is one of my favorite teas. This is the tea I drink every morning as I slowly awaken to the day before me.
Black Dragon Pearl comes from the southern Yunnan province in China. This black tea version of the popular Dragon Pearl is naturally sweet and smooth with a touch of earthiness.
Only the highest quality leaves and buds are selected and expertly rolled into a large pearl-like shape before the leaves can dry. I love watching this amazing golden-tipped large leaf tea steep, as each pearl gently unfurls delivering a superb tea experience.
You can infuse this tea in a tea sack of sorts, but please don’t. You will get a much better flavor if you let them fully open naturally without constraint, as in a large infuser or just leave them be in your cup. Simply strain the infusion into another cup after steeping.
Black Dragon Pearl is a full-bodied infusion with subtle cocoa notes, producing a beautiful coppery-amber color. It’s smooth and sweet on its own but stands up well to added milk or sweetener, too. It’s also very forgiving since it doesn’t turn bitter if you accidentally over steep it.
The tightly rolled nuggets of the Black Dragon Pearl contain its own mystery, aroma, texture, and hue as intriguing as its name. Did I mention the cocoa notes - it just smells heavenly!
How is Black Dragon Pearl Tea Made?
The Leaf Chief/Master Taster Cynthia at Adagio Tea gave me some information on the background of Black Dragon Pearls.
Our Black Dragon Pearls are from Yunnan, where they get their smooth, sweet, and rich character. The leaves are plucked and go through the black tea making the process. After oxidation and while still pliable, they are kept warm on a heating pad of sorts to keep them supple. This fills the room with a wonderful aroma of the leaves.”
Black tea is fully oxidized, producing a hearty rich flavor. This means that once the first two leaves and bud are plucked they are then allowed to “wither” to reduce the moisture in the leaf.
Once withered to satisfactory moisture content, the leaves are rolled. The rolling releases the flavonoids setting up the enzymatic process for oxidation. Once fully oxidized the leaves are set out to dry and cool.
They are hand-rolled into the pearl shape and twisted into nylon mesh to keep their shape while they dry. It looks kind of like a bunch of grapes when a bunch of them are twisted into the mesh. When completely dry, the pearls are released from the nylon.”
Just the idea that each pearl comes from hand-picked tea and then hand-rolled adds to the beauty of the Black Dragon Pearl tea. Adagios Black Dragon Pearls are some of the best I've had.
2. Earl Grey
Earl Grey is an international bestseller and one of the most popular flavored teas in the west. The distinctive flavor of Earl Grey comes from bergamot oil.
Bergamot is a Mediterranean citrus fruit. The bergamot fruit has a very generous rind and is prized for its fragrant essential oil by perfumeries and tea blenders.
Related: 10 Best Online Tea Shops
Some tea blenders use natural bergamot oil while others use artificial oil. When a natural oil is used it will say “oil of bergamot.” Natural bergamot has a subtle but intense flavor. And it’s not easy to find.
Smith Tea Maker makes a Lord Bergamot Earl Grey that is my absolute favorite. They use oil of bergamot from southern Italy to scent the tea. The black tea is a blend of Sri Lankan and Indian teas.
Tea Blending is a Craft
Since Earl Grey is a blended, flavored black tea, the exact blend of black tea used, as well as the choice and amount of bergamot oil will greatly affect its flavor. Here is where the craft of the tea blender is so very important.
The black tea used as a base for Earl Grey is a blend and often comes from China, India or Sri Lanka. The main black tea base for Earl Grey commonly uses a blend of rich Assam tea from India with other black teas.
The best way to achieve an excellent Bergamot flavor is to use an all-natural bergamot oil from Italy. Italian bergamot oil is very expensive but is the preferred oil.
When it comes to food you can’t mistake the Italian’s passion for excellence. Italian Bergamot oil makes the Earl Grey tea a tad pricey, but it’s definitely worth it.
Earl Grey can also make a delicious cocktail. You can get my Enchanting Earl Grey Cocktail recipe here.
3. English Breakfast Tea
English Breakfast tea is an all-time favorite, across the globe. It’s certainly one of my favorites. It is a blend designed to be consistent across harvests and provide a strong morning cup of tea. Every tea company designs its own secret blend of breakfast teas, all claiming to have the best black tea available.
The English Breakfast black tea blend is traditionally made with a quality China Keemun from the Anhui province. The Keemun gives it a deep rich flavor that goes nicely with the addition of milk making it a superb morning tea.
Irish Breakfast tea, on the other hand, is a black tea blend using Assam tea from India as part of its primary base.
Either one makes a delightful morning cup.
Masala chai is a powerful blend of tea, herbs, and spices cherished for centuries in India.
Masala means ‘mixture of spice’ in Hindi. Chai rhymes with ‘pie’. Chai is the word for tea in many parts of the world. So when we mistakenly say 'chai tea' in America, we are really saying 'tea tea'. Masala chai is simply tea (chai) with a spice mix (masala).
This sweet spiced tea from India is made from the best black tea and spices. Each blend is unique but most include cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and pepper. Traditional Indian chai spice blends are designed to promote health and peace of mind.
All chai spice blends use cardamom. It is the most important and also the most expensive spice in the mix. In fact, cardamom is one of the most expensive spices in the world. The good news is you don’t need a lot of it to flavor your tea.
If you want to make your own Masala Chai, true to the Indian version, check out my Quick and Easy Masala Chai recipe.
What is Cardamom?
Cardamom is revered for its medicinal properties dating back to Egypt’s Ebers Papyrus in 1550 BCE. The Ebers Papyrus is the Egyptian document of herbal knowledge and is one of the oldest and most important medical documents of the time.
Indigenous to the hills of southern India, cardamom is used in many recipes for its’ sweet and savory wellness qualities. Cardamom is known as a digestive aid and appetite stimulant. It also acts as a diuretic and antioxidant. The seed is often chewed as a breath refresher.
Cardamom is a good source of Vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium and zinc, and a very good source of dietary fiber, iron, and manganese.
Keemun tea is the best black tea produced in the Anhui province of China. It is famous for its rich flavor, fiery amber liquor, and toasty aroma. It is smoky, slightly malty and smooth, with an aromatic finish.
Adagio and TeaVivre both sell excellent Keemun. It's strong, smoky, sharp, but with maltiness and body. It also has a fruity aroma. If you like a dark beer or a red wine, this may be the best black tea choice for you.
Keemun is a perfect evening tea. It pairs well with biscuits or chocolate. In China, Keemun is typically drunk without milk or sugar, although many prefer it with some sweetening.
Grades of Keemun Tea
There are several varieties of Keemun tea that you may come across when buying premium Keemun tea. If you've never tried a Keemun black tea, once you do you will never forget it. Keemun has a very distinct pleasant taste, unlike any other black tea I've ever tasted.
The dried tea leaves tend to be long and thin with a classic copper color liquor.
- Keemun Mao Feng: This is the most popular Keemun. An earthy tea slightly reminiscent of chocolate. It's harvested in the Spring and contains two leaves and a bud. Keeman Mao Feng is lighter than other Keemun teas.
- Keemun Hao Ya: A high-grade variety, containing mostly leaves. When you are shopping you might see two more categories described as Hao Ya A (1) or Hao Ya B (2). Hao Ya A is better quality. Both have a strong slightly malty taste.
- Keemun Gongfu: This is specifically made for the Gongfu tea ceremony.
- Keemun Xin Ya: Is an early bud variety and as such has less bitterness.
Whichever tea you choose, I hope you enjoy it! What is your favorite black tea?