Basic Black Teas – Always in Style

March 9, 2012 by Bruce Richardson

I’m often introduced as the guy who blends teas in the land of bourbon.  My neighboring master distillers at Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey distilleries all share my passion for crafting some of the finest beverages in our respective fields. Often they search the racks of aging barrels in their warehouses to find exceptional barrels that are the best of the lot. These honey barrels are reserved for bottling as single barrel bourbons that garner a premium price. Rare bourbons are to be sipped slowly and shared with friends. And  heaven forbid they should ever be included in a mint julep or mixed with cola!

I find that folks who have an affinity for exceptional bourbons can easily appreciate the vast nuance of flavors found in rare and single estate teas.

Norwood Pratt, author of The Tea Dictionary, and I once enjoyed a private tour of the famed Woodford Reserve Distillery in nearby Versailles, Kentucky.  Our guide tipped one of the honey barrels on its side and splashed a generous portion of the amber liquid into a wine glass which he offered as a sample. It was liquid gold.  We were reminded of the times we both had drunk freshly made tea in the gardens of Darjeeling or the highlands of Sri Lanka.  You can’t get any closer to the source than this.

Just as every gentleman’s collection of bourbon should include certain basic bottles, every tea collection should contain classic single estate black teas from the major growing regions of the world.

Consider this starter set of four classic teas for your Basic Black Tea Collection:

Sri Lanka Every tea blender offers a tea grade called “Orange Pekoe.”  It is not a blend and has nothing to do with oranges. Orange Pekoe (OP) is a grade of uniformly long pointed tea leaves, usually from either India or Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon). Look for a single estate Ceylon OP tea for easy all-day consumption.

Assam A robust, malty tea from the northeast Indian state of Assam where over 800 tea gardens are cultivated. It is often manufactured for breakfast with the addition of milk but my preference is a tippy grade that is easy to drink with no astringent bite.

Darjeeling A delicate, slightly-green, black tea from the Himalayan foothills of India. Eighty-six gardens in Darjeeling produce exceptional, and expensive, teas known for their distinctive muscatel overtones. The three major pickings are First Flush, Second Flush, and Autumnal Flush. These light slightly green teas are best infused for no more than four minutes.

Yunnan China’s Yunnan province has been producing exceptional teas for more than 1700 years. Golden Yunnan is a handsome black tea that displays large golden buds and uniform shaped leaves that brew to a liquor that is a rich, dark reddish-black with a molasses-like sweetness and a malty finish. Show the dry leaves to your guests for added appeal.

avatar
Author: Bruce Richardson
Tea Master for the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum

Accomplishments
MSN calls Bruce Richardson "A leading tea expert involved in tea's American renaissance for over 25 years." The native Kentuckian is a writer, photographer, tea blender, and frequent guest speaker at tea events across the globe. He can often be found appearing on television and radio talk shows, or as a guest speaker at professional seminars such as World Tea Expo and China Global Tea Fair. He is the author of over a dozen books on the subject of tea. Mr. Richardson serves as Tea Master for the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum.