Most westerners still refer to the their most common form of tea as “black tea”.
This is completely wrong.
When Europeans first started buying tea from China, they had very little idea what they were doing. So they described the different teas they bought by the color of the dried leaves. Green leaves were “green tea” and black leaves were “black tea”. Simple.
But still completely wrong.
There is also white tea and oolong tea, but if you look at their dried leaves, how would you describe them? Light green? Greenish-blackish? The Chinese have a much better system – they name tea for the color of the beverage made. Not the dried leaves.
So, the leaves that made a green-looking drink were green tea, or, since this is the most common form in the east, simply tea. The tea made most commonly in the west, the red-brown beverage made from the same tea leaves, but which have been fired or toasted, is red tea. Oolong, which was invented long after green tea, was considered “between” green and red, which it is from the chemist’s standpoint of oxidization.
For the record, there is such a thing as black tea in Chinese (actually it’s the second-most ancient form) – a noticeably thick, dark beverage, usually considered medicinal. This is pu’erh, or fermented tea, and completely different from English Breakfast or Earl Grey.
I believe that the Chinese nomenclature for tea is correct and that’s what I use. So whenever you see the words red tea in my writing, you know I mean the common Western-style tea, and when I use black tea I mean the very strong and unusual fermented tea that comes in little compressed cakes.
Seriously. Stop calling it “black tea”. It’s red tea damn it.