Black tea

In traditional Westerns at the movie theater, the good guy wears the white hat. Here, black is definitely 'the good guy'.

All true tea is the product of the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. But, ah, what a difference a little oxygen and sunlight makes. Green tea is very lightly oxidized, Oolong moderately so and black tea the most heavily oxidized of all. There's even a fourth variety, white tea, that rarely makes it to western shores.

The black tea leaves are plucked, washed, rolled and dried. From there they may find themselves partially ground into a tea bag or sold more or less whole. But in whatever form the leaf makes it to market, the flavor is largely the result of the region from which it came and the processing used there.

Much of it originated in China near Mount Wu Yi, in the Fujian Province. One style, the Lap Sang Sou Chong, is dried by holding the leaves over burning pine. The result is a delightfully strong, smoky flavor. From the Yunnan Province hails the tea that adopts the name of its homeland. Here is produced a dark, malty tea that is full of rich flavor.

India, for centuries one of the world's largest tea producers, offers two with names that are possibly more famous than the tea itself. Assam is full-bodied and with a distinctive astringency that prompts many to dilute it with milk. The Darjeeling from West Bengal is more delicate, but still a very robust tea. Slightly spicy, it makes a perfect breakfast drink.

Initial efforts to grow tea in Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) in the 18th century were met with utter failure. But the growers persisted and tea drinkers around the world are the beneficiaries. The black Ceylon teas grace many fine table in their home country and throughout the world.

Vietnam has recently made efforts to join the ranks of major producers. The light aroma of a Vietnamese black is deceptive. This dark brew has a wonderful taste that is the real deal.

Even Turkey offers a black tea that any aficionado will want to sample. Hailing from the Rize Province on the eastern coast, this mahogany colored brew  is prepared in a samovar and served up 'koyu'. The best way to translate that word is simply to drink some. Be prepared for a jolt.

Black tea also makes for an excellent partner in traditional or modern blends. For example, the famed Earl Grey (named after its 17th century promoter) is a sweet, perfumey blend that gets its distinctive taste from a small amount of bergamot oil.

Whichever country you favor, whatever flavor you enjoy, sample a wide variety of black tea straight or flavored. Drink up!