Trying to talk about tea on a worldwide level can bring up some conflicts in what terms we use for the various types of tea. One of these conflicts is about red tea versus black tea. Many sources address this issue by stating flatly that they are the same thing and that the name difference has to do with what part of the world you are in. Tea drinkers in the U.S. and in other parts of the world use the term “black tea” to refer to the color of the dry tea leaves. They are fully oxidized and are, therefore, dark brown to black in color. However, in a lot of Asian countries this type of tea is called “red tea” based on the reddish color of the liquid. In Mandarin Chinese it’s hóngchá; in Japanese it’s kōcha; and in Korean it’s hongcha.
But there’s more to the story.
|2000 Yong Pin Hao “Yi Wu Zheng Shan” Stone-Pressed Raw Tea|
They describe “red tea” as: traditional Chinese teas (also called congou tea) whose robust flavors and aromas ignited the original love of tea among the English and that are best when consumed straight without flavorings or milk and sugar added. An example is Keemun Hao Ya B which produces a liquid that has a luster and bright reddish brown color.
Originating in Fujian Province, these “red teas” are now the most widely produced and drunk teas in the world. They have remained unchanged for centuries and are starting to gain a following by connoisseurs who seek a more traditional taste. In the Fujian province of China, three “Famous Fujian Reds” are produced: Tanyang Gongfu, Zhenghe Gongfu, and Bailin Gongfu.
There are three subcategories of Chinese Red Tea:
- Kung Fu Red Tea — considered one of the unique red tea products from China, it has only been popular in China and Asia whose tea drinkers care about the red tea leaf quality.
- XiaoZhong Red Tea — the other unique red tea products from China, it is the only product of FuJian China, with its top end grade named Zheng Shan. An example is 2000 Yong Pin Hao “Yi Wu Zheng Shan” Stone-Pressed Raw Tea, a cake that is solid and heavy, with mostly whole leaf/bud sets. They steep up a reddish liquid with a complex and aromatic fragrance, a thick and satisfying flavor with different levels and a sweet finish.
- Broken Red Tea — the leaves were broken into pieces on rollers; this is the variety that made tea really popular overseas, but it’s considered an inferior product (the lowest quality of red tea) in China. In 1876 George Reid invented a machine to cut tea leaves into small pieces, so this tea began to be produced and gained popularity in Europe and North America. It currently comprises about 80% of global tea exports.
One final note: Westerners also call an herbal from South Africa by the name “red tea.” It is actually not a tea but an infusion from the dried leaves of Rooibos (red bush). When buying any “red tea,” read the vendor’s description on their site or one the package label carefully to be sure which you are getting. Buying from a vendor who specializes in premium Chinese teas, though, will assure that when they call something “red tea” you will be getting true tea.