Varieties of Chinese Teas

teacup2by Lisa Maliga

copyright 2002-2014

Tea and China are two words that go extremely well together. For Americans it’s probably the first Asian herb they have ever used. During the days of the Peoples Revolution in China, workers were paid mostly in rice as tea was considered an extravagance or a medicine. Nowadays, green tea is the most popular variety in China. China produces more green tea than any other country. There are many types of green tea, all of which share the characteristic of being light and refreshing. Although green tea is recognized as an antioxidant, and for possessing qualities that guard against cancer, further research in Australia and Japan reveal that all teas have similar qualities.


Five thousand years ago, the Chinese Emperor, Shen Nung, accidentally discovered a new beverage. He believed, as did those who practiced Indian Ayurvedic medicine, that boiled water was the safest to drink. The Emperor was traveling in a distant region with his court and they were hot and thirsty, so stopped to rest and have boiled water. The servants prepared the water but dried leaves from a tea bush fell into the pot and were infused into the water. Shen Nung drank this new beverage and liked it so much that it soon became all the rage. And that was how tea was introduced into China.


Fermentation of tea leaves occurs as a process of oxidation immediately after gathering. The leaves are broken to expose the oil to air. The intensity of fermentation depends on the amount of time allowed for oxidation before the roasting process begins. Green teas typically undergo no fermentation. Lightly fermented teas such as some Oolongs may range from 10% to 50%.

Roasting is done in an oven after the desired level of oxidation is achieved. The amount of time the leaves are roasted categorizes them from light through heavy. The more roasted the leaves, the darker the tea will be. A combination of fermentation and roasting gives each type of tea the particular qualities for which it is named. For example, a typical Oolong tea is fermented to more than 50%, but only lightly roasted. This gives Oolong its distinguishing aroma of honey. A green tea with minimal fermentation and roasting will have a fragrance and flavor of just-picked flowers.


White Teas:

Naturally these are the lightest color teas and possess a very mild flavor. White teas are often sun dried and free of processing, as the leaves are usually just-picked. Their leaves are flat and silvery, as are those in Sow Mee, which translates as “Old Man’s Eyebrows.”

Green Teas:

This color of tea has been getting lots of praise over the past decade as being a cure for all manner of ailments ranging from mild to serious. A more bitter tea, the leaves are very curly and dark green. Green tea is excellent for one’s digestive system and can increase energy. Many green teas take their names from the region in which they are grown, such as Jin Chu [“Sun-Poured”] from the southeastern area of China. Despite its name, Gunpowder is a green tea that contains only a small amount of caffeine. It is made from young leaves that are tightly rolled in order to maintain freshness.

Oolong teas:

They are made by semi-fermenting green tea leaves. Some of the best Oolong teas are cultivated on the steep mountain slopes. With tea trees growing almost 100 feet in height, trained monkeys can only pick tealeaves. Those teas are nick named ” Monkey Teas.”

Red Teas:

A Chinese red tea, Qimun, is valued for the compact size and shape of the dry tealeaves, and the resulting color: bright red. The tea is heavy bodied and strong. Red tea is fermented, thereby containing no more caffeine than green tea.

Black Teas:

There is some mix-up about the difference between black and red teas as the Chinese refer to them as “red” tea, which describes the color of the liquor they produce. Some of this is attributed to the fact that the leaves change color when brewed. Whether black or red, these are the most familiar to Western tea drinkers, and are often taken with the addition of milk and/or sugar. They also contain the highest amounts of caffeine.

Drinking tea will help lower your cholesterol and can be beneficial for those who are trying to lose excess weight. However, to determine the best type of tea for your needs, it is recommended that you consult with a licensed practitioner of Chinese medicine.


Any Chinese grocery or herb store

Any tea shop – A wide assortment of tea and teaware. – Many different types of tea and teaware.

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