How Food is Made

What is in Black Tea and Tea Bags?

What is in Black Tea and Tea Bags?

What is in black tea, and specifically, what is in tea bags? We explore and bring you all the details on black tea, including what are black tea and tea bags made from, how they are processed and history.

Black tea is one of those omnipresent beverages that we take for granted, which many of us enjoy multiple times a day in the form of tea bags. Tea is the world’s most popular beverage (excluding water) and black tea accounts for 98% of all tea sold worldwide. Tea crosses cultural boundaries and does not differentiate between social classes, from the humble cuppa at home through to the classic British high-tea and Japanese tea ceremonies.

Tea is everywhere, but how much do you know about what is in black tea… and tea bags?

In this article I’ll share with you:

  • Introduction: What are Black Tea and Tea Bags anyway?
  • Ingredients: What is in Black Tea?
  • Processing: How is Tea produced? (infographic)
  • History of Tea

Introduction: What are Black Tea and Tea Bags anyway?

Tea refers to a hot or cold infusion of leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant. Usually drunk hot, tea may be served with milk, sugar, honey or lemon. Tea may also be enhanced with flowers such as jasmine, fruits, herbs and spices. A popular variation is Earl Grey, which is black tea with bergamot. Most black tea is blended and unscented and sold as loose leaf or in tea bags. Tea bags simply consist of tea that has been finely milled and placed into food grade, disposable bags to make it easier and more convenient to prepare.

What is in Black Tea?

Camellia Sinensis leaves. It may also contain fruit, flowers, spices and herbs.

Camellia sinensis is native to China and India and has two major varieties, C. sinensis var sinensis and C. sinensis var assamica. It grows in a range of climates from humid tropics to cold mountainous regions at high altitudes. Generally, black tea is made from var assamica, whereas green tea is from var sinensis.

After picking, tea leaves naturally wilt and oxidise (ferment), changing flavour and colour. Tea makers control this wilting and oxidising to produce different styles of tea. Black tea is both wilted and fully oxidised (fermented), whereas green tea is neither wilted nor oxidised.

Benefit of drinking black tea

Tea contains a moderate amount of caffeine and L-theanine, which some studies have shown helps to reduce stress, improve mood and enhance cognitive function. Some studies have also found that drinking tea may help prevent obesity and type 2 diabetes.


Ingredients: What is in Black Tea?

Black tea is made from leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, which may be enhanced with additional flavours such as fruit and spices. Ingredients include:

  • Tea Leaves (camellia sinensis)
  • Fruit (dried or oils)
  • Aromatic Oils (eg floral scents)
  • Flowers (eg rose petals)
  • Herbs, Spices    

Processing: How is Tea produced?

Even though tea and tea bags make a regular appearance in many of our diets, few of us understand precisely how they are produced and may be asking what are black tea and tea bag processing steps. While writing my non-fiction food comic book How Food is Made: An illustrated guide to how everyday food is produced (more about the book here) I researched a ton of food science and food industry books, magazines and journals to get the real answer to the question ‘What is in black tea and tea bags, and how are they made?’, which I give to you now.

The following infographic (and the text in this post) is an extract from my book How Food is Made

what is in black tea infographic

History of Tea

Beverages made from herbs and flowers steeped in hot water have likely existed since prehistoric times. Camellia tea is thought to have originated in China during the Shang dynasty (1556–1046 BCE) or earlier. The oldest specimen of camellia tea was found in the mausoleum of a Chinese emperor from the 2nd century BCE. According to Chinese legend, tea was created by an emperor when camellia leaves accidentally fell into a pot of boiling water.

Tea was introduced to Europe in the 1600s and America in the early 1700s. By the late 1800s, tea had become an everyday beverage in England.

Politics and the Tea Act of 1773

What is tea bag made of?

Paper and plastic. Silken bags are made from plastic, not silk as the name implies.

Tea is central to some well-known political conflicts. During the opium wars, during which time China held a monopoly over the tea trade, Britain found it difficult to import tea from China. So, in the late 1800s, the English began cultivating and exporting a variety of tea native to India (assamica), thus breaking China’s monopoly.

In America, the Tea Act of 1773 caused the Boston Tea Party, which in turn led to the American Revolution. The Boston Tea Party was an act of protest against a tax placed on tea by the British parliament. The protestors dumped a full shipment of tea from the British East India Company into Boston Harbor.

How were Tea Bags invented?

Tea bags were unintentionally invented in the early 1900s when a tea merchant gave out his tea samples in small hand-sewn bags. The bags were only meant to hold and store the tea—it was the customers who discovered the convenience of steeping the tea directly in the bag.


Did you enjoy this article ‘What is in Black Tea and Tea Bags’?

If you’d like to learn more about the processed foods we eat everyday, please check out my non-fiction food comic book How Food is Made: An illustrated guide to how everyday food is produced. The book features 60 common foods, detailing their history and manufacturing process using illustrations and food infographics.

If you have ever wondered where factory food really comes from and how it is made, this book is for you. Don’t just take my word for it. Food critics and reviewers love the book too – check out critic reviews here. Find out more about the book here and read more free samples here.

Thanks for reading!

-Ayla Marika

Credits: Featured image Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels

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