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Chinese Tea 

Tea-producing areas in China 

As the national beverage of China, tea is produced in vast areas in China, from Hainan Island down in the extreme south to Shandong Province in the north, from Tibet in the southwest to Taiwan across the Straits. Tea bushes are cultivated in the mountain areas of tropical and subtropical regions or wherever there is proper climate, sufficient humidity, adequate sunshine, and fertile soil. Because of varying geographic location and climate, different regions grow various kinds of tea. In general, there are four tea-producing regions.

  

Jiangbei Area 

This refers to a large area north of the Yangtze River, consisting of the provinces of Shandong, Anhui, Henan, Shaanxi, Gansu and northern part of Jiangsu. It is China's most northern tea-producing area with a relatively low annual average temperature of 15-16 Centigrade degrees. Green tea is the principal variety turned out here. 

The area's uneven rainfall often results in drought-stricken tea plants. But in some mountainous regions where the local climate is agreeable to tea growing, several premium teas are produced. These include Henan province's Xinyang Maojian and Lu'an Guapian from Anhui province. 

Jiangnan Area 

This area lies south of the middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, covering the provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangxi, Hubei, Hunan and the southern parts of Anhui and Jiangsu. This is most prolific tea-growing area in China, with an annual output comprising two thirds of the domestic total.  

The area enjoys four distinctive seasons, with affluent rainfall in spring and summer followed by a dry autumn. Tea farms here are often located in hilly areas and sometimes in high altitude, mountainous regions. Varieties produced in this area include green, black, oolong, as well as various scented teas, among which Dragon Well (Longjing) from Zhejiang Province and Biluochun from Jiangsu Province are top varieties. Teas from Jiangnan are famous throughout China and the world. 

Southern China Area 

This area, consisting of the southern provinces of Guangdong, Fujian, Taiwan, Hainan and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is mostly famous for black, oolong and white tea production. Covered by rusty-red soil, the area enjoys an annual average temperature of 19-22 Centigrade degrees and the most annual rainfall among all tea-producing areas in China, which enables a growing season as long as ten months. All these factors make the Southern China area one of the most agreeable areas for tea planting. 

The southwest Area 

The area is considered to be the original birthplace of the tea plant. It embraces the southwest provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou and part of the Tibet Autonomous Region, producing green, black, post-fermented and compressed teas. 

The land in China's southwest has the highest soil organic content compared with other tea-producing areas in China. The complicated terrain and diverse climates breed various types of tea, among which Pu'er tea from Yunnan Province is the most famous in China and abroad. 

Types of Chinese tea  

All teas originally come from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. The differences between types of Chinese tea are caused by variations in processing methods, as well as the geographic location of the tea plant and by the appearance and taste of the infused tea.

Chinese teas can be categorized into five different groups -- green tea, black tea, oolong tea, white tea and post-fermented tea. Often, scented teas and compressed teas are included in this list.     

Green tea

Green tea leaves are light to dark green in color and brew into a light green infusion. Green tea undergoes minimal oxidation during processing. Raw tea leaves are heated, rolled and dried without fermentation. This enables the leaves to keep their original color and retain their naturally occurring antioxidants, which according to recent research can help reduce the risk of cancer and slow down the aging process.   

With a longer history than other varieties, green tea is the most popular variety of tea consumed domestically in China. China is the world's largest green tea exporter, comprising more than 80 percent of the global market. 

Green tea is produced all over China. Representative varieties include Dragon Well (Longjing) from Zhejiang, Biluochun from Jiangsu and Huangshan Maofeng from Anhui Province.  

 Black tea

Black tea is made with tea leaves that have undergone full fermentation before baking. Known as "red tea" in China, the variety features brown to reddish-brown tea leaves which produce a light brown infusion. In comparison to other tea categories, black tea generally produces a more full-bodied flavor.   

Although green tea has recently seen a revival due to its purported health benefits, black tea still accounts for over ninety percent of all tea sold in the West. It is also the most popular form of tea consumed in south Asia.   

The best brands of black tea from China are Qimen Hong from Anhui, Dian Hong from Yunnan, Chuan Hong from Sichuan and Hu Hong from Hunan Province.    

Oolong tea 

Oolong tea is a specialty from southeastern China, originating from provinces of Fujian, Guangdong and Taiwan. Oolong tea features a partial fermentation process, and thus has the characteristics of both green and black teas. It tastes as clear and fragrant as green tea and as strong and refreshing as black tea. Also, high quality oolong teas produce a long aftertaste that lingers in your mouth. 

Being semi-fermented, Oolong tea is quite potent in breaking down protein and fat, aiding weight loss. It enjoys brisk sales in Japan.   

Tieguanyin and WuYi Yancha from Fujian as well as Dongding oolong tea from Taiwan are among the most prized oolong teas.   

White tea 

White tea derives its name from the distinctive white-colored appearance of the dry tea. The variety is made with uncured buds and young leaves of some tea cultivars from southeast China's Fujian Province. Those buds and leaves go through minimal processing so that they are kept closer to their natural state. Even the silvery-white hairs on the leaves are preserved, which gives the dry tea a whitish appearance.   

Both green and white teas are among the most lightly oxidized teas, which increases the teas' antioxidant properties. Young tea leaves contain higher caffeine than older ones, so the caffeine content of white tea may be higher than that of green tea. China's white tea sells well in the United States because American scientists found that elements from white tea are beneficial to people's health.   

White tea is a specialty of Fujian Province. Well-known brands of white tea are Bai Hao Yinzhen, Bai Mu Dan, Gong Mei and Shou Mei.    

Post-fermented tea 

Post-fermented tea, known in China as "hei cha," is made with tea leaves that have undergone a long period of fermentation after they are fried and rolled. The fermentation process is extremely exacting. Only a Tea Master after decades of study is capable of producing this type of tea. After the unique process, which is kept a closely-guarded secret, the finished tea takes on a dark brown color.   

Unlike most Chinese teas whose taste and aroma fade with age, post-fermented tea can actually be aged to improve its flavor. The fermented leaves last much longer than other types of tea. Aged tea, especially Pu-Er tea from southwest China's Yunnan Province, is rare and extremely valuable. As a Chinese specialty, post-fermented tea is usually compressed into different shapes for storage and transport convenience. In the past, post-fermented tea was the most exported tea in China, which was shipped as far away as Russia. It is also the most popular tea in areas of China with large ethnic minority populations. People from Tibetan, Mongolian and Uyghur ethnic groups consider post-fermented tea an essential part of their daily lives.   

The most famous brand of this variety is the Pu'er Tea from southwest China's Yunnan Province. The large-leafed tea is gathered from trees that thrive in Yunnan's varying climate and acidic soil. Famous as a medicinal tea, it is believed to aid digestion, reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, reinforce the immune system and help prevent cancer. The smooth, dark Pu'er tea has a rich and distinctively earthy flavor.   

Scented tea

Scented teas, also known as "flower teas" are made by mixing a base tea -- most commonly a green tea, and sometimes a black or oolong tea -- with flower petals or blossoms which lend their fragrant essence to tea leaves during processing. Flowers used include jasmine, osmanthus, chrysanthemum, lotus and rose.   

Jasmine tea, among others, is the most popular type of scented tea in northern China. When it is infused, Jasmine tea produces a bright yellow-green liquid with a strong, long-lasting floral fragrance.  

Chinese Tea Sets  

Chinese tea sets vary in material, shape, technology and naming due to diversified drinking habits and customs in different historical periods, different areas and different nationalities. The Chinese believe that to make an excellent tea, it is important to blend harmoniously with the material and color of the ware. 

Tea sets in China are made of various materials, including metal, porcelain, pottery, purple clay, lacquer, wood, bamboo and glass. Tea sets made of metal were served for the noble and civilians commonly used porcelain ware and earthenware in the Tang Dynasty. In the Song Dynasty glazed tea sets of various colors were the fashion, while porcelain and potter wares tea sets predominated in the Yuan Dynasty and later.  In modern times, glass utensils are warmly welcomed because of their transparent texture and dazzling luster. Making tea in a glass cup, you can clearly see the real color of the brew and the softness of the tea leaves. 

Chinese people use different kinds of tea sets with different kinds of teas. Green tea goes with white porcelain, glass or celadon without a cover while scented tea with celadon or blue and white porcelain with a cover. Black tea goes well with purple clay ware with white inside glaze, white porcelain, warm colored ware, or coffee ware. And oolong tea is also excellent in purple clay ware.

             

 

Drinking tea in China 

The practice of tea drinking in China can be dated back to as early as the period of the Three Kingdoms (220-265 A.D). Though the teahouse appeared later in the history, the particular norms and customs accumulated and took shape over long periods of time. People pay special attention to the teapots, tea leaves and water.    

Chinese believe that exquisite utensils should comply with delicate food. The same goes with teapots. The famous "zi sha hu" is made of a special pottery clay, purplish black in color and antique in design. Carved on it are some inscriptions, paintings and poems. The specialty is that it can preserve tea leaves in their original flavor and color. It is said the longer the pot is used, the more scent it gives out. 

The carefully selected tea leaves and water are also indispensable. The tea leaves, picked before the solar term of rain water, are preferred, and then processed by hand. River water is never used, but water from springs or melted snow. When it snows in the winter, people in teahouses would shovel clean snow into huge water vats and store it for daily use. Drinking tea from this snow water can free people from heat rashes. No wonder the great poet Bai Juyi of the Tang Dynasty became a frequent visitor to teahouses when he was the regional chief in Hangzhou. And so many people form the habit of drinking tea day by day. It will certainly add a distinctive flavor to the scented tea, if you are seated in the traditional teahouse in such a picturesque place.  

Chinese Teahouse

Teahouses form an integral part of China’s unique tea culture. Teahouses appeared throughout urban and rural China as early as the Tang Dynasty. During the Qing Dynasty, going to teahouses was a very common practice. Storytellers and folk singers were often hired to enliven the atmosphere. 

Sichuan Teahouse

Sichuan is one of the earliest places that produce tea, so there are a large number of teahouses there. Despite some distinction between the teahouses in Sichuan, their interior is invariably the same: bamboo chairs, square tables, calligraphies evoking the teahouse’s atmosphere and the typical Sichuan tea set – the Gaiwancha. This tea set includes three pieces: the saucer, the cup and the cover. Drinking tea is not the exclusive pleasure of going to the teahouse. Other leisure activities comprise reading newspapers and playing Chinese chess or mahjong. Sichuan people flock to teahouses to chat and exchange news and gossip. 

Hangzhou Teahouse 

Favorably situated close to the East Sea, Hangzhou area enjoys an appropriate climate for producing tea as well as artistic surroundings for tasting tea. Thus, teahouses there do not need find decoration, for the nature and the buildings seem to blend into each other. Teahouses in Hangzhou can be summarized with one word “ True”. The present teahouses in the Zhejiang area are fewer than those in Sichuan because most of Zhejiang people drink tea at home. However, the cultural atmosphere of Hangzhou teahouses is much stronger. 

Beijing Teahouse 

Beijing’s teahouses are characterized by their diversity, multiple functions and richness in cultural background. Chinese traditional art performances for example: Jingju (Peking opera), Xiangsheng (cross talk), Pingshu (storytelling by a professional storyteller), Danxian (storytelling and singing to musical accompaniment) etc. mostly have come into being in the teahouses. 

Guangdong Teahouse

Drinking tea is a symbol of Guangdong people’s everyday life and it has to be in teahouses. The Cantonese have a custom of drinking tea with dim sum. Cantonese call it “yum cha” which literally means “drinking tea”. By the later Qing Dynasty, teahouses in the true sense emerged in Guangzhou. There were more expensive places offering much better tea with a variety of delicacies. If you are staying in Guangzhou and want to know about the local customs, a recommendable way is to join the Cantonese in their passion for morning tea. In the midst of the crowds teahouse goers, you may get a better idea of which life is like in Guangzhou.

 

 

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