In China Black tea is a fully fermented tea called Hei Cha (translates to dark or black tea).
The best known black teas are varieties of Pu’er (pronounced poo-are) which originates in the Yunnan province in China.
Note: What Western cultures call “Black Tea” (English tea, breakfast tea etc.) is called Red Tea in China.
HOW BLACK TEA IS MADE
Pu’er is one of the least processed teas. First, the leaves are picked and tumbled for about a few minutes. After the first drying, the tea is rolled and then sun dried. The tea at this stage in the process is called Mao Cha. The tea can be left as loose tea or compressed to form a tea brick. Pressed green tea is then stored in a drying room for a day.
After the tea is made, it is stored in a clean, well-ventilated environment, with moderate temperature and humidity. This is known as dry storage.
Another method of producing Black Tea where the Mao Cha is placed in a pile and water is sprinkled on the pile to help accelerate the aging process. The tea is closely monitored for temperature over up to 70 days and stirred as needed. This microbial fermentation process creates it’s own heat and accelerates the aging of the tea.
Guang Xi Liu Bao
Zang Tea (Tibet)
BLACK TEA HISTORY
It is thought that over 1700 years ago that Black Tea made in Yunnan, China were transported by mules and horses in long Caravans along established routes that became known as the Tea Horse Roads. Traders from Tibet, Laos, Burma, etc would trade for tea in the tea markets of Pu-erh County and then hire the Caravans to carry the tea back to their respective homes.
Due to the difficulty of carrying and trading tea with these Caravans they started to compress the tea into bricks. It was easier to handle and they were able to get more tea on each horse that way. The caravans travelled long distances and discovered that by the end of the journey the tea tasted better than when they started. They discovered the Black Tea aging process.
The tea bricks were made into many standard sizes and were traded as a form of currency.
There were five main Tea Horse Roads during the Ming and Qing Dynasty. They went throughout China and were later extended to reach Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong, Tibet, Nepal, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.
Mushroom shaped tea appeared in 1912. It was invented at that time in order to prevent the tea from going mouldy during the transportation. It was produced in Xia Guan and Fo Hai (two cities in Southern China). The production was then stopped in 1966. In 1986, the production was resumed at the request of Buddhists in Tibet.
Brick Tea was mainly produced in the Sichuan province prior to 1949. It is now also available in other provinces as well.
Black Pu’er Tea with the accelerated fermentation process was invented by the Kunming Tea Factory in 1972. It is now made in many different factories and is most popular type of Black Tea sold.
Starting in the early 1990s, many small tea factories were created and many started using a very high quality tea that was previously only reserved for emperors.