In the west, there is a misconception about what black tea is exactly. Many people got it wrong by saying that fully oxidized tea is black tea. In China, this type of tea is called red tea. Is Liu Bao tea black tea, red tea, or something else?
Liu Bao is a famous example of black tea in the Chinese sense of the word. Black tea in China is dark or fermented tea that went through (artificial) fermentation. This is different from red tea, which is fully oxidized tea. Black tea and red tea are usually misunderstood in the west because people use ‘black tea’ to talk about red tea.
Red tea or black tea
In China, people usually refer to the type of tea based on the color of the liquor. People in the west don’t do this. They look at the color of the leaves. That is why there is a common misconception about black tea.
What is red tea?
This category of tea is described as hóng chá (red tea) in China, but people in the west refer to this type of tea as black tea. This is confusing because, in the east, they already have a category of tea that is called black/dark tea. In Chinese, this is translated as hēi chá.
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Hóng chá (or red tea) is a tea that is (almost) fully oxidized during production. Famous examples of red tea are Lapsang Souchong, Jin Jun Mei, and Qimen tea.
Fully oxidized tea leaves have a dark color and produce dark brown, amber, or reddish liquor. Based on the color of the tea liquor, it makes perfect sense to call this type of tea hóng chá, which translates as red tea.
What is black or dark tea?
Black/dark tea in China is not the same as what we call black tea in Europe. The most important characteristic of dark tea is that it goes through (artificial) fermentation. This is not the case with red tea.
In most cases, hēi chá (or dark/black tea) is fully oxidized, but it’s also fermented. The fact that it is fermented makes it different from hong cha. This fermentation can take place during production through artificial fermentation (like shu pu-erh) or can slowly occur over time (like aged sheng pu-erh).
Liu Bao as hēi chá
Liu Bao is a fermented type of tea from China’s Guangxi province. This means that Liu Bao is indeed black tea. However, it’s only considered black tea in the Asian sense of the word, and not in the western sense.
Liu Bao is artificially fermented during production, just like shu pu-erh. The leaves are black and the tea liquor is usually dark brown or even black. Liu Bao also gets smoother with age, which is a common characteristic of fermented teas.