red tea vs black tea

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If you're in the US, and someone offers you red tea, you'll probably end up confused. What we call black tea in the West, is called red tea in China. But, in Africa and other parts of the world, red tea refers to Rooibos (a South African herbal tea). In China, if you say black tea, they think you mean fermented tea (pu'er tea). So, things quickly get confusing. 

The tea in question is characteristically dark, robust and strong. Some cultures use additives like milk and sweeteners; others repulse at the thought of it. Most tea producing countries today produce some variety of black tea styles.

MAKING: Black teas are considered fully oxidized, like leaving an apple to fully turn brown. Typically, black teas are rolled to release natural oils, which when react with oxygen to produce a lovely fragrance and changes the flavor of the leaves. When the tea is fully oxidized, high heat is used to finish the tea. This leaves the tea leaves a dark roasted brown color, with flavors ranging from tannic, malty, earthy and chocolate to sweet, citrus, and fruity.

HISTORY: Until the mid 17th century, the only teas created in China were green (unoxidized) and oolong (semi-oxidized) teas. There is a tale that tells the story of army men that took shelter in a tea factory in Fujian province. Because of their presence, all production at the factory was halted, and the leaves that were wilting were left out for far longer than intended. This allowed the leaves to fully oxidize for the first time. In an effort to fix the tea, they decided to smoke the leaves over pine wood - which created the first Lapsang Souchong, the first red tea. 

Fast forward to the mid 1600's when tea came from China to Europe, it was red tea they brought over because of its long shelf life and easy portability. When it arrived, Europeans started calling it black tea, because of its dark leaves compared to those of green tea leaves. The Chinese never exactly corrected them, so the name kind of stuck. Even though it causes much confusion amongst new tea drinkers today.