Black tea has traditionally not been a very desired tea. Often made from the scraps or unwanted tea leaves, black tea doesn’t have a great esteem in mainland China. Where black tea has seem the most enthusiasts originally, has been on the outskirts of China, on and across the border. This has earn this category of tea the title of “Border Tea”. Chinese Black tea has gained new popularity with the recent invention and quick rise to fame of shou pu.
A document called History of the Ming Food and Money first mentions Hie cha when it says that “Tea is exchanged for horse, As Hunan tea is cheap,cross-border private and selling of Hunnan hei cha prospered” (viconyteas.com). Since Hei cha is a very rough tea, it is very inexpensive to make and thus trading it for horses proved to be very prosperous. We most often see black in cakes because compressing the tea may it easier to transport on these large journeys. Traditionally each cake is 357gs which was then put into a case of seven called a tong.
Hei Cha is created in a process called wo dui. Wo dui is a wet piling process that takes place after the finished tea have been placed into a pile and moisture has been added. What begins to take place is a compost like process where bacteria grows on the leaf and starts fermenting the leaves. The temperature is controlled by turning the leaves in the pile and is kept at 40-70c. Once the the bacteria are finished, the tea is left to dry in the sun to remove the remaining moisture.
The category of hei cha, black tea, is often over simplified to just contain pu er. So much so that people will call the whole last category of Chinese tea simply pu er. It’s important to understand that while shou pu is an example of hei cha, there are others such as lu bao. In fact shou pu is less than 60 years old making it the youngest member of this category.