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Black tea is unique in the tea world because it goes through a significant oxidation process. Generally black tea is stronger in taste than other types of tea.
The basic processes used during the production of all black teas are withering, rolling, oxidization, and drying.
Black tea differs from other forms of tea due to the large presence of condensed catechins, the polyphenols formed during oxidation, known as Theaflavin.
Oxidation: the most crucial part of black tea production
The length and time of oxidation are very important factors in determining the flavor of the black tea.
There is very much an art to crafting a black tea because the flavor profile develops quickly during the oxidation process. However, at some point the sought-after flavor quickly begins to disappear.
It is generally agreed that the prime temperature for triggering the oxidation of a black tea is around 84°F (29°C).
However, any fluctuation in this temperature greatly influences the amount of moisture the leaf loses as well as the amount and type of catechins that are oxidized.
What makes black teas so different?
Apart from the temperature and time of oxidation, there are other factors that influence how a leaf oxidizes and, therefore, how the final black tea tastes.
The consistency and strength of the withering affects how a leaf oxidizes. If the leaves were unevenly withered or withered too quickly, then the leaf’s catechins will oxidize differently and the taste of the tea will change.
Different leaves oxidize differently
The size and subtleness of a leaf affects the time it takes for a leaf’s catechins to react with oxygen.
Also mixing the leaves of different cultivars or leaves plucked from different areas can lead to uneven oxidation.
This is because different leaves have different capacities for oxidation. They might be different in size or they might have been cultivated in different conditions; one grown in full sun, whereas others grown in partial sun. Such uneven oxidation creates uneven taste and quality.
The final taste is the choice of the tea master
When a tea producer oxidizes a tea leaf, he/she must evaluate four distinct taste characteristics: briskness, brightness, astringency, and strength.
Each of these characteristics emerges and then disappears at different stages of the oxidation process.
The tea master must therefore determine which of these characteristics takes precedence while trying to balance all four characteristics present in a black tea.
The environmental conditions in which the oxidation takes place is another important factor which has a great effect on the consistency of the overall oxidation.
The amount of oxygen present, room temperature, breezes, and other types of contaminants affect the overall quality of oxidation.