For those new to tea drinking, it often comes as a surprise to learn that there are categories of tea beyond green and black teas. Thanks in no small part to large chains, however, other categories of tea have been getting exposure as well. Depending on where one goes, one might be introduced to “red tea,” “white tea,” “oolong,” “herbal tea,” and even “puerh.”
Technically speaking, some of those categories are not “tea” in the proper sense of the term. Though we frequently use the word “tea” to describe simply any infusion of dried leaves in water, “tea” in the true sense of the word are the processed leaves from the camellia sinensis species. Of the kinds of teas processed from camellia sinensis, traditionally, they belong to one of five categories: white, green, yellow, red, and dark.
This is where things can get a little confusing.
While we tend to name teas after the color of the leaves, they were traditionally named after the color of the infusion. This means that when we are speaking about red tea in the traditional sense, we are not talking about rooibos at all but are instead describing what we commonly call “black tea.” Though the leaves appear almost black in many cases, they tend to produce liquors with reddish colors.
If “black tea” is actually red tea, then what is dark tea?
If you have ever tried puerh, then you have tried a dark tea. But although puerh is commonly treated as if it were its own category of tea, it actually belongs to the category of dark tea. What defines a dark tea is the storage, fermentation, and aging processes that it undergoes. These contribute to a very unique and often intensely strong flavor, depending on the age and type of the tea and how much it has been allowed to ferment.
One such non-puerh dark tea is Lao Liu Bao Hei Cha. This dark tea comes from Liu Bao Village in Guanxi Province, and it has been aged in bamboo baskets locally for 10 years. Though puerhs can taste remarkably different from one another, there are different kinds of Liu Bao dark teas as well, and they all have their own unique flavor profiles. In this case, our Lao Liu Bao is a hardy tea that can take many infusions, and what is truly remarkable is how its flavors change so dramatically across the many infusions, eventually giving way to a sweeter tea after four or five steepings.
When you think of dark tea as a category much like green tea, you can begin to appreciate the diverse flavors that each of these teas has to offer in much the same way that the many green teas all have different flavor profiles as well. Perhaps by seeing it as its own category, including but also going beyond puerh teas, you will feel inspired to taste the range of all that dark tea has to offer!