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Beloved for its strong taste and wide range of options, black tea has been one of the most popular beverages in the world for hundreds of years. It is far and away the most consumed tea in the U.S. Even casual tea drinkers have likely enjoyed a black tea blend, like a robust English breakfast, a citrus-infused Earl Grey, or a sweet-and-spicy masala chai—and the list continues.
What separates black tea from other varieties is its long oxidation process. The tea leaves are left to dry and darken until they are packed with more tannins, antioxidants, caffeine, and, above all, flavor. Black tea also boasts an extremely long shelf life; if stored properly, it can stay fresh for two to three years. Below, we rounded up our favorite options in a number of categories, flavors, and prices to help you find the perfect cuppa.
Whether you prefer bagged or loose leaf, with milk or with sugar, here are the best black teas.
Best Overall: Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Gold Tea Bags
Can get two uses per bag
A little pricey
Difficult to find in stores
Taylors of Harrogate has produced high-quality tea for more than a century, and Yorkshire Gold is the finest black tea the UK brand offers. Customers describe the flavor as bold, complex, and malty; some even detect a slight floral aroma that enhances each and every sip. With tea leaves sourced from top gardens in Assam, Kenya, and Rwanda, this delicious breakfast blend can be enjoyed with or without milk.
A box of Yorkshire Gold won’t break the bank, but it is a little pricey. Those interested in a cheaper alternative can try Yorkshire Red, a lower-quality but more affordable version of Gold. Both are available in bagged and loose-leaf form. As an added bonus, all Taylors of Harrogate products are certified by the Rainforest Alliance, ensuring they are made with ethical regard for people and the environment.
Form: Tea bags and loose leaf | Size: 40, 80, and 160 tea bags | Origin: Assam, Kenya, and Rwanda
Best English Breakfast: Twinings of London English Breakfast Tea
Value for money
Strong but not bitter
Easy to find
No list of the best black teas is complete without Twinings English Breakfast. Easy to spot in its signature red box or tin, the blend is a daily staple for many tea drinkers and a must-have in the cupboard. It is not necessarily the number-one tasting English breakfast on the market—for that, look to higher-price tiers—but it is an unbeatable value-for-money option. Customers describe the flavor as strong, slightly sweet, and never bitter.
Another perk of this affordable tea is the range of sizes and styles it comes in: tea bags, loose leaf, and K-Cup pods. Twinings also makes English breakfast tea in Decaf, Extra Bold, and Lemon varieties, all of which are widely available online and in local grocery stores.
Form: Tea bags, loose leaf, and K-Cups | Size: 4, 20, 50, and 100 tea bags | Origin: Kenya, Indonesia, Assam, Malawi, and China
According to Shunan Teng, the founder and CEO of Tea Drunk, one tip for making better tea at home is to use hotter water for high-quality tea and lower-temperature water for subpar tea. "Hotter temperatures bring out the flavors in better tea," she says, "and lower temperatures dilute the flaws in lower-quality tea. With bad tea, the bitterness and astringency would come out with higher temperatures."
Best Chai: Vahdam Teas Original Masala Chai Tea Loose Leaf
Rich flavor and aroma
Brewing instructions on bag
Difficult to find in stores
No ginger in this blend
Cinnamon. Cardamom. Black pepper. The spices in masala chai are so delicious they are not only used for tea but a variety of desserts and baked goods, too. It’s a one-of-a-kind flavor and, for many, completely irresistible.
Our favorite chai comes from Vahdam Teas. The brand’s Original Masala Chai is a well-rounded option that suits everyone from chai newbies to seasoned sippers. It’s sold in both loose-leaf and bagged form, and comes with simple brewing instructions on the packaging. Vahdam offers more than one dozen other chai blends too, ranging from a sweet Vanilla Spiced Masala Chai to a gentle Green Tea Masala Chai. Bags are available in an array of sizes, some large enough to brew 200 cups of tea.
Form: Tea bags and loose leaf | Size: 3.53 or 16 ounces | Origin: India
Best High-End: Adagio Teas Yunnan Golden Curls
Complex and malty flavor
Enjoyable at all times of the day
Not sold by many retailers
Limited size options
After sipping hurried cup upon hurried cup every day, tea and coffee lovers alike are often moving too fast to appreciate what they are drinking. But there are certain teas that slow us down and remind us that tea drinking is meant to be a rich experience. For that, look no further than Adagio Teas Yunnan Golden Curls. This black tea looks delicate with its light gold leaves, but it packs a lot of flavor into every sip. Tasting notes include cocoa, raisin, spices, and an underlying maltiness, while the aroma is both sweet and savory.
The tea leaves are sourced from China's famous Yunnan Province, which many consider the birthplace of tea. Higher grades of Yunnan tea (also called Dian Hong tea) are known for their brassy, golden color, and this will stand out the moment you brew Adagio Teas Yunnan Golden Curls tea.
Form: Loose leaf | Size: 10-cup sample or 3-ounce pouch | Origin: Yunnan Province, China
Best Earl Grey: The Republic of Tea Earl Greyer Black Tea Bags
Detailed instructions on tin
Available in decaf
Canisters can dent during shipping
Lighter bergamot flavor
The widespread love of Earl Grey starts with two distinct flavors: the robust punch of black tea leaves and the citrusy zest of bergamot oranges. This unique pairing comes to life in every sip of The Republic of Tea’s Earl Greyer. The fair-trade-certified brand combines Ceylon tea leaves from Sri Lanka and, the key ingredient, bergamot oil to create one delicious cuppa.
Some customers say the bergamot isn’t as noticeable here as in other Earl Grey blends, but the tea receives high marks for flavor nonetheless. The bergamot is designed to complement the black tea flavor rather than overwhelm it. Reviewers add that this tea makes a great gift because of the decorative tin it comes in. Tins are sold in counts of 6 and 50 tea bags, and there is a cost-effective bulk bag of 250 tea bags. Loose-leaf and decaf versions are available at slightly higher prices.
Form: Tea bags and loose leaf | Size: 6, 50, and 250 tea bags | Origin: Tea leaves sourced from Ceylon and Kenya; bergamot sourced from Italy
Best Loose Leaf: Tealyra Cream Earl Grey Moonlight
Sweeter than most Earl Grey teas
Thorough brewing instructions on website
Difficult to find in stores
Experts widely agree the purest brews come from loose-leaf tea. Large tea leaves retain more flavor and aroma than the dust and fannings that so often pervade bagged tea. And with almost 1,000 loose tea options, from gentle white teas to earthy pu-erh, Tealyra is the name to turn to.
Tealyra’s Cream Earl Grey Moonlight, in particular, appeals to all manner of tea lovers, not just those who drink black tea. It’s one of the brand’s best-selling items, and for good reason. Three unique flavors coalesce to delight the senses: a rich black tea base, citrus notes from organic bergamot oil, and a sweet, creamy finish of French vanilla. Such complexity means the Cream Earl Grey Moonlight can be enjoyed at all times of the day, whether it’s a morning pick-me-up or a late-night dessert tea.
Form: Tea bags and loose leaf | Size: Loose leaf available in 50, 100, 200, and 400 grams | Origin: Sri Lanka
Best Decaf: Harney & Sons Decaf Hot Cinnamon Spice
Strong flavor for decaf
Thorough brewing instructions on tin
Possibly too sweet for black tea lovers
A reliable cup of decaf isn’t easy to find. The decaffeination process alters and often weakens the taste of tea. That’s where Harney & Sons Decaffeinated Hot Cinnamon comes in. Teeming with notes of cinnamon, orange peel, and sweet cloves, the Ceylon-based blend delivers vibrant flavor in every cup. Customer reviews are overwhelmingly positive, with praise ranging from the tea’s aroma to the decorative tin it comes in. The Decaf Hot Cinnamon is available in tea sachets and loose-leaf form. Harney & Sons also sells a caffeinated version, which is one of its most popular products.
It’s likely that many tea drinkers have long been Harney & Sons devotees. The Connecticut-born brand is as easy to find in the grocery store as Bigelow, Lipton, and the like, yet its teas are generally considered to be of higher quality.
Form: Sachets and loose leaf | Size: Tins of 20 or 50 sachets; loose tea available in 4 or 16 ounces | Origin: Ceylon
Best for Iced Tea: Vahdam Teas Darjeeling Second Flush Loose Leaf Black Tea
Easy to drink
Makes kombucha too
Brewing instructions on bag
Difficult to find in stores
Not much muscatel flavor
From the heat of summer to the frigid depths of winter, every season is iced-tea season for true fanatics. And what better tea to stock all year round than a highly versatile Darjeeling, which can be used for black, green, white, and oolong tea. Darjeeling is known as the champagne of teas because it often contains a sweet, grape-like finish—a flavor referred to as “muscatel.”
This second-flush Darjeeling doesn’t have much muscatel flavor, but it’s still downright delicious. Once brewed, it will greet customers with bright notes of berry and date palm, as well as a beautiful red color. The tea leaves are sourced from the mountainous district in India for which Darjeeling is named. Along with refreshing iced tea, it can be used for hot tea or fermented for a probiotic-packed batch of kombucha. Customers interested in a malty iced tea, as opposed to fruity, will likely enjoy Keemun or Assam tea instead.
Form: Tea bags and loose leaf | Size: Loose leaf available in 9 ounces | Origin: India
Best Irish Breakfast: Bewley's Irish Breakfast Tea
Great with or without milk
Slight bitterness not for everyone
Subpar tea-bag quality
The Bewley name can be traced back hundreds of years in Ireland. As one might expect, the Dublin-based company produces one of the tastiest Irish breakfast teas you can find. Steep for 3–5 minutes and experience the bold, malty flavor that defines Irish breakfast tea. This affordable blend is even more robust and more caffeinated than its counterpart, English breakfast tea, although it may be an acquired taste because of its slight bitterness. The strong flavor pairs well with a spot of milk and sugar. Unfortunately, Bewley’s Irish breakfast is only sold in 80-count boxes—a selection more limited than most big-name tea brands.
Form: Tea bags and loose leaf | Size: 30 or 80 tea bags | Origin: India
What Western countries refer to as "black tea" is known as "red tea" in many Asian countries. "One theory is that Britain named the tea for the color of the leaves, while China named it for the color of the liquor," says Shunan Teng. "But this isn’t entirely true because China didn’t name it for the color. Basically, when Britain first encountered the tea, they didn't know there was already a name for it and they saw the color of the leaves."
Best for Milk Tea: Taylors of Harrogate Assam Tea Bags
Great for bubble tea
Available in loose leaf
Slight bitterness not for everyone
Subpar tea bags
“Milk tea” is used to describe several tea-based drinks, but in most cases the phrase simply denotes hot tea with a splash of milk. The cozy combo is best with black tea, especially ones as bold, malty, and slightly bitter as Taylor of Harrogate’s Assam Tea. Named after the region in India where it’s grown, Assam is a potent and extra-caffeinated tea used in popular blends like English breakfast and Earl Grey. This one is so strong the brand actually recommends serving it with milk, along with steeping it for a long increment of 5–6 minutes. Taylors of Harrogate’s Assam Tea is available in boxes of 20, 50, and 100 tea bags and loose-leaf form. Customers add that it’s an excellent base for bubble tea, too.
Form: Tea bags and loose leaf | Size: 20, 50, or 100 tea bags; 4.4-ounce box of loose leaf | Origin: India
What to Look for in a Black Tea
The overarching category of "black tea" comprises a wide array of varieties and flavors. Narrowing down the specific types of black tea you're interested in will help avoid disappointment later when tasting that first sip. Are you looking for a pure black tea like Assam, Darjeeling, or Ceylon? Or do you prefer blended teas like English breakfast, Earl Grey, and so on? It's also worth knowing the flavor profiles you like and, just as importantly, dislike because black teas can range from bold and malty to sweet and fruity.
Bagged vs. Loose
Bagged tea and loose tea have several differences, even when they are the same variety from the same brand. Tea bags (or tea sachets) are cheaper and make brewing quicker and easier. On the downside, they generally contain lower-quality tea and customers are less likely to get multiple uses from them. Those who don't mind paying a little extra and devoting more time to their tea may prefer loose leaf. It's widely considered the purest form of tea; experts say it produces the strongest and most complex flavor when properly brewed.
Most tea drinkers enjoy at least one cup per day, which means costs can add up quickly depending on the brand. One benefit of black tea, however, is its long shelf life. It can be purchased in bulk sizes to save money and then stored for two to three years before losing freshness. Another detail to keep in mind for buyers looking to save money is that tea bags are typically more affordable per serving than loose-leaf tea. Finally, just because one tea is more expensive than another doesn't automatically mean it's higher quality. Go with whatever tastes best to you.
What water temperature is best for black tea?
Black tea is one of the strongest varieties, so it requires hotter water to produce the best flavor. The general range is 180 to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, but most black teas fall on the higher end of this figure. Chai, English breakfast, and Earl Grey all need 205 degrees or hotter. Lighter black teas, like first-flush Darjeeling, taste best with water around 180 to 190 degrees. Using water that's too hot results in a bitter cup, while water that's too cold leads to a lack of flavor.
How long should black tea steep?
Black tea should steep for 3–5 minutes on average. Keep in mind that loose tea needs more time than bagged tea for all the flavors to come out. If tea isn't steeped long enough, the taste will be weak and watery. Steeping too long, on the other hand, creates a bitter and unpleasant taste. Most brands lay out specific brewing instructions for their teas either online or on packaging, so consult those sources beforehand if unsure.
How much caffeine is in black tea?
On average, an 8-ounce cup of black tea contains 40 to 90 milligrams of caffeine. This is a higher caffeine content than most tea varieties, including white, green, herbal, and oolong. It is roughly half the caffeine in a cup of coffee. Pure black teas tend to be more caffeinated, while teas blended with other ingredients—like the spices in masala chai—are less so. The caffeine content per cup can be increased by steeping with hotter water or for a longer amount of time.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
This piece was written by Derek Rose, the coffee and tea expert for The Spruce Eats. Before recommending these products, he gathered information from customer reviews, third-party articles, and brand websites' details on tea sourcing. He researched the components of popular black tea blends, which influenced his selections for the best English breakfast, Irish breakfast, Earl Grey, and chai teas. To recommend Harney & Sons Decaf Hot Cinnamon (view at Amazon) he read about the decaffeination process for tea.
Shunan Teng is the founder and CEO of Tea Drunk and an avid tea educator. Tea Drunk was founded in 2013 and has a brick-and-mortar tea house in New York City. Its teaware and Chinese teas can be purchased online.