Any tea that goes through a secondary fermentation process is known as dark tea. Out of the five categories of tea: black, oolong, green, white, and dark tea, this post-fermented tea has the most complicated production process. First, it is fire-dried with pine wood in the primary processing stage. Next, the tea leaves are sprinkled with water and stacked in piles to allow for microbial fermentation to occur, lasting for months to years. During this aging process, bacteria react with the tea leaves, changing their chemistry, flavor, and aroma. This process gives the tea leaves its dark color, from which dark tea gets its name. Unlike other Chinese teas, the taste and aroma of dark tea get better with age, thus winning the favor of tea collectors and investors.
If the legends surrounding the origin of dark tea are believed, then this aged, mellow beauty was born by accident on the ancient Silk Road. The tea caravans from Yunaan carrying compressed tea bricks often battle the rains, exposing the tea to moisture and humidity. Not all tea bricks survived the long journey, and many were contaminated. But what the tea merchants initially thought were damaged bricks held together fermented tea, which was discovered to have a lovely strong aroma and a unique earthy flavor, along with numerous health benefits. After its discovery, it soon became famous as the commoner’s beverage in China, especially among the minorities.
Historical records attribute the production of this tea to the Ming Dynasty. In the 15th and 16th centuries, this tea, also known as the Border-Sale tea, was sold on the borders. There are also accounts of tea merchants exchanging bricks of compressed dark tea in exchange for horses in the “History of Ming Food and Money.” Despite being around for more than 500 years, this tea is still one of China’s best-kept secrets; and many tea drinkers worldwide are sadly still oblivious to it.
Preparing Dark Tea
Dark tea requires more tea leaf per cup than other teas. Instead of the usual 2 to 3 grams, add 5 grams of tea leaves for a 250 ml cup. This tea needs to be steeped for 4 to 6 minutes, and depending on the type of tea, the color of the steeped tea will range from a light yellowish-brown to blackish brown. The great thing about dark tea is that it can be steeped multiple times. The first steeping barely breaks apart the tea leaves. The same tea leaves can be re-steeped up to five, even eight times.
Consuming Dark Tea
Since the specialty of dark tea lies in its distinctive earthy flavor, the best way to understand and enjoy the beauty of its unique flavor is to have it black without any milk or sugar. If a sweetening agent is required, then trade your sugar cubes for honey because honey does not overpower the taste of a tea the way sugar does.
Dark Tea Pairings
The distinct earthiness of dark tea makes it a perfect companion for meat recipes or oily foods. You can wash down your steaks and meatloaves with this tea or enjoy it with fried chicken or fish fingers.
Health Benefits of Dark Tea
Rich source of nutrients: Dark tea is a rich source of many nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and beneficial amino acids and sugar substances.
Aids digestion: Due to its digestive properties, it is common for dark tea to be consumed with every meal in China. Not only is this tea an excellent pro-biotic, but the amino acids and phospholipids present in this tea help with digestion, regulate fat metabolism, and also improve the secretion of gastric juice.
Prevents cardiovascular diseases: Dark tea reduces blood fat and mitigates peroxidase, which has positive effects on heart health.
Excellent anti-oxidant: Dark tea is rich in antioxidants such as catechins and flavonoids, theanine, and tea polysaccharides. Hence, drinking dark tea provides protection against free radicals and delays cell aging.
Lowers blood sugar: The tea polysaccharide present in dark tea helps lower blood sugar.
Anti-cancerous properties: According to the studies conducted by the Hunan Agricultural University of Dark Tea, this beverage can help fight the effects of tumor cells.
Anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory effects: Theaflavins and thearubigins are the significant components that give dark tea its anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Detox tea: The polyphenols present in dark tea make it an excellent choice for detox purposes, especially if you’re trying to recover from the effects of smoking and alcohol.