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Bamboo Green Tea
China has at least eight major types of tea. They include hundreds of well-known varieties of green tea, oolong, black and puer. There are different preparation methods. Green tea is prepared using fresh tea leaves that are first stir-fried; black tea is made from fermented fresh leaves; oolong tea is both fried and fermented in a process that makes the leaves green in the middle and red at the edges. Bubble milk tea is a strong, milky iced tea with chewy tapioca balls. It is popular with the shopping mall crowd.

There are at least 800 different types of Chinese tea. Chinese rank their teas and recognize their places of origin. They classify tea according to six colors: green tea, blue tea, red tea, white tea, yellow tea and dark green tea. The main varieties known in the West are green tea, black tea (the same as Chinese red tea) and oolong tea. Black teas (red teas) are highly processed and oxidized. After they are picked the leaves are exposed to air, then crushed and stored in temperature- and moisture-controlled rooms, where they oxidize ("ferment"), which turns the leaves deep brown and intensifies their flavor.

Green teas are the least processed of all teas. They are steamed, rolled and dried (in Japan) or pan fried (in China) soon after picking to kill the enzymes and prevent oxidation before drying. Green tea has a slightly bitter, grassy flavor. The fragrance at first is grassy but later becomes sweet. The taste has been described as "fresh, energetic and sweet." The most prized green tea — “longjin” — is produced mainly in the Hangzhou area of east China.

Sandao (Three-taste) Tea is popular in Yunnan. The custom of drinking it dates back Nanzhao kingdom of in Yunnan in the 8th-10th century. This custom was later introduced to common folks. Now Sandao Tea is popular with the Bai people in Dali, who use it to entertain guests and friends. Sandao Tea first tastes bitter, then sweet and finally has a pleasant aftertaste.

Websites and Sources: Wikipedia article on History of Tea in China Wikipedia ; Rare Teas

Popular Teas in China

Among the popular teas in southern China are jasmine “heung pin”, slightly bitter “sau mei”, earthy black “bo lei” and chrysanthemum tea. Many people recommend the pu-er, oolong and green teas. Shanghai “gok fa cha” ice tea is served with sugar.The lush mountains of coastal Fujian Province are famous for oolong tea. Sometimes oolong teas are blended and filtered through charcoal and silver.

Huiming tea of Zhejiang province, olong tea of Guangdong Province and Beiling tea of Fujian Province are all produced by members of the She nationality. Huiming tea was tribute item in the Ming and Qing dynasties and was awarded a gold medal at an international exhibition in Panama in 1915.

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According Naoko Iwasaki — a tea arts master certified by the Chinese government — there are more than 1,000 kinds of Chinese tea, either from China or Taiwan. Iwasaki said Chinese tea is divided into six groups, including green, white and black, and is categorized by the level of fermentation, processing, the color of the leaves and other factors. Although the most common tea in China is green tea, the way it is prepared and enjoyed is different from that in Japan. [Source: Aki Omori, Yomiuri Shimbun, July 29, 2011]

For beginners she recommends Chinese oolong tea, the most well-known among blue teas with moderately fermented leaves. "Taiwan oolong tea, in particular, is aromatic and doesn't have any surprises," Iwasaki said. She said uniformly shaped dark green leaves are characteristic of good tea.

The joy of Chinese tea is found not only in the flavor but also in the scent and color. In the making of authentic Chinese tea, small, purpose-built tea cups and pots are used. "With them, you can completely enjoy the scents and flavors. Tea can also be prepared in ordinary, small teapots and sake cups," Iwasaki said.

Chinese teas include green tea, black tea, oolong tea, scented tea, Qintang Maojian tea, GuangXi KudingCha, Liubao tea, Pu'er tea, Tuo tea, Dianhong tea, and Tie Guan Yin tea.

Chinese Green Tea

Green tea (lu cha) is made from the cooking (or firing) young tea leaves either in an oven or a specially made wok known as Ding. Chinese tea makers used to cook green tea by steaming it and this is still the preferred method in Japan. The firing process helps to preserve the tea's colour and produces a fuller flavour and body. Green Tea is characterized by nutty, sweet and vegetal flavours. [Source: Canton Tea Company]

The production of green tea as we know it today probably started in China in the 2nd century. From the 7th to 14th century the Chinese boiled and baked green tea into a pie shape. Elaborate ceremonies developed around the serving of Pie Green Tea and its production was banned by reforming Emperor Hong Wu in 1391. Loose leaf green tea production, including firing the leaves, began to take over around this time.

Zhejiang Province is the major growing region and produces the most famous Green Teas, including Dragon Well (Long Jing), Anji Bai Cha and Jade Tips (Mao Jian) Green Tea is also produced in Hainan, Anhui and Jiangsu.

Green Tea is picked between March and June, depending on the region and varietal. The larger leaf varieties tend to be harvested late in the season. First flush green teas such as Dragon Well and Anji Bai Cha are harvested before the Qingming Festival (around the 6th April) every year and are known as Pre-Qingming teas. Leaves are fired soon after picking to stop the natural oxidation process and preserve the fresh vegetal flavours. The scientific term for the effect that withering has on tea is the Maillard Reaction, the same process that creates the browning of grilled meats.

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different grade fermentation

Types of Chinese Green Tea

Dragon Well (Longjing) is China’s best-loved Green Tea. Characterized by flat, spear-shaped leaves, which are picked in pairs, true Long Jing is grown only around Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province. It is widely faked in China so always choose a reputable supplier. [Source: Canton Tea Company]

Anji Bai Cha is a high quality Green Tea made from the same varietal of ‘Big White’ tea plant as Yin Zhen. Oxidation is stopped by firing to give a more pronounced depth of flavour to the young leaves, which are arrow shaped and feathery in appearance.

Mao Jian (downy tip) is a high quality Green tea produced in Xinyang, Henan Province. It is characterized by small slightly downy sea-green coloured leaves with silver tips. The light yellow liquor is deliciously sweet and nutty.

Pouchong (Baozhong) is a very lightly oxidised tea, somewhere between Green Tea and Oolong Tea, though often classified with the latter due to its lack of the sharper green tea flavours. Pouchong offers both mineral and floral notes and has a rich, melony taste.

Huiming tea is a kind of Chinese green tea native to the Jingning County of Zhejiang Province, which is known for its mountain area, lush forests, and fresh air. According to Dried Hui Ming tea is curled, green, and covered with white hairs. After brewing, the tea liquid looks clear and light green and has an orchid fragrance or fruit fragrance. Many people who have tasted Hui Ming tea praised it “the first cup is light, the second is fresh, the third is mellow, and the fourth is aftertaste”. The tea is named after a monk named Hui Ming who built a temple called Hui Ming Temple in 1861. He and some tea farmers planted tea trees around the temple. Later the tea became famous. The picking time of Huiming tea is from March to October. According to the picking season, Huiming tea can be classified into spring tea (March, April, May), summer tea (June), and autumn tea (September, October). [Source:]

Oolong Tea

Dark green or black oolong teas are 30 to 70 percent oxidized. Most common in China, they are exposed to heat and light and crushed for less time than black tea. Their level of processing is about half way between green and black tea. They have a strong and sometime flowery fragrance and a fruity, mellow flavor. Common mainland oolong teas include Tikuanyin, Shuxian and Dahongpao. Taiwan oolong tends to be milder than mainland teas with an emphasis on fragrance over flavor.

Oolong teas are infused with nearly boiling water in very small round-bottomed pots that are almost filled to the top with leaves that expand in the water. A tea connoisseur told the New York Times, "Oolong is bitter and sweet, with good memories, sometimes quite uncomfortable. But only when you have seen the vicissitudes of life will you understand the meaning of it."

Relatively uncommon white teas are slightly oxidized and have a light, flowery fragrance. The leaves of white teas are light to medium brown and sometimes are covered by furry silvery hairs. Silver needles, white peony and shoumei are common white teas. White teas should be infused in water around 170̊F.

Scented teas, such as jasmine tea, and compressed teas in cake form are made both from oolong and red teas.

Jasmine Tea and Other Flower Tea

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Purple back begonia tea
Jasmine tea is made from tea mixed with jasmine flowers mixed using certain processes that allow the tea to absorb the floral fragrance of jasmine flowers. Jasmine tea mainly uses the leaves of green tea, There are a small number of black tea and oolong tea leaves and sometimes other types of tea. Jasmine tea is said to relax the nerves and offer headache relief. [Source:]

Chrysanthemum tea is made from Chrysanthemum flowers and blacktea and has a deep aroma and special fragrance. Among the health benefits attributed to it are lower blood pressure, the elimination of cancer cells, and the expansion of the role of coronary artery. Long-term drinking is said to increase the body’s absorption of calcium, regulate cardiac function, lower cholesterol, and prevent of conjunctivitis, For dry eyes also lead to better results.

Magnolia flower tea is a strong-smelling tea produced by mixing fresh or dried magnolia flowers with tea using a certain process. It is said to reduce recurrent headaches caused by emotional tension, fatigue after work or by high blood pressure. It is also said to help people who suffer from hypertension, vascular spasm headache, nasal, headaches and dysmenorrhea.

Osmanthus tea is scented with tea sweet-smelling osmanthus. This retains the flavor of tea, but is also richly scented with osmanthus fragrance. It is said drinking it cools the body, helps the stomach, reduces bad breath, improves vision, prevents ulcer, softens the skin and makes one more beautiful.

Chinese Spring Teas; She Qian, Ming Qian and Yu Qian

The Chinese lunar calendar, one year has 12 solar terms, each with 15 days. The ones around springtime are: 1) Jing Zhe, around March 5, the Waking of Insects; 2) Chun Fen, around March 20, the Beginning of Spring; 3) Qingming, around April 5, the time of the well-known Qing Ming Festival; and Gu Yu, around April 20, the time of the Grain Rain Festival. [Source: Teavivre]

For green tea, these four solar terms make the best time for harvest. Early-sprouted tea trees often germinate their buds around the Waking of Insects and Beginning of Spring, and are ready for harvest before Qingming, or even the Beginning of Spring. This kind of tea is extremely tender and fresh. Its excellent flavor and aroma makes it owns the names as “The Top of Tea”. However, due to the low temperature in that time, the tea buds germinate within a very limited amount of time, which makes the tea rare. Since ancient times, Chinese agriculture has been guided by solar terms. In the tea industry, using the solar terms, tspring teas can be divided into three types: She Qian, Ming Qian and Yu Qian.

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Wongloka tea
She Qian means before the She Ri Festival. To understand the name She Qian, we need to see the components separately. She refers to the She Ri festival, nd Qian means before. She Ri is an ancient Chinese festival when sacrifices to the Tu Shen god were made. It is about 41 to 50 days after the first solar term, the Begining of Chinese Spring. Thus the She Ri festival is around the time of Spring Equinox. Teas harvested between the beginning of Spring and Spring Equinox are called as She Qian tea. She Qian tea is picked half-a-month earlier than Ming Qian tea. Being picked around the time of Spring Equinox, the She Qian tea is extremely tender and fresh.

Ming Qian, also know as Pre-ming, means before the Qingming Festival. In that period of time, tea trees have accumulated a rich amount of nutrition in their body after a whole winter, and as it’s usually cool in early spring, tea trees grow slowly. Therefore Ming Qian tea could carry more nutrition than teas picked after Qing Ming Festival. In addition, it has less tea polyphenols, which gives tea a bitter flavor, making Ming Qian tea tastes mellow and aromatic. Tea leaves grown in spring season suffer less damage by insects, bringing a better quality to the leaves.

Yu Qian means before the Grain Rain Festival, which is between April 5 and April 20. Teas picked and made during that time are called Yu Qian Tea. The leaves are not as tender as She Qian and Ming Qian teas, yet due to the fast growing of tea trees, Yu Qian tea has stronger flavor, which it can be steeped for longer times.

Ming Qian Spring Tea

There is an old saying goes “Ming Qian tea is as precious as gold”. In the Jiangnan region, south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze Rive, time and temperature are crucial to tea’s growing. Tea trees do not sprout until the Spring Equinox. Ten to fifteen days later, tea farmers begin to pick their first spring tea. All those factors lead to extremely low yield yearly. After one busy day, one skilled tea-picker can only pick 250 grams of fresh leaves. One kilogram of freshly picked leaves yields only 250 grams of dry tea. After discarding the dross and selecting the essential, this number become even more smaller. Reportedly there are up to 60,000 tea buds in 500 grams of finished tea. This kind of rarity translates to a higher price. This is the case with Ming Qian tea. [Source: Teavivre]

“Tea trees remains in a dormant state in winter. When the last busy season is finished, tea farmers begin to prune tea trees, apply fertilizer and bed hay. During the long winter, tea trees absorbed considerable amount of nutrients, which can strengthen the extraction of substances from leaves. When spring comes, tea buds which are rich in nutrients begin to sprout. Broadly speaking, tea leaves at this time are dense, fat and tender. In addition to these, Ming Qian tea is also high in chlorophyll, especially chlorophyll A which is valued, giving the tea leaves a tender texture and bright green color, producing a pleasant smell and taste

Famous teas like Longjing, Xin Yang Mao Jian, Bi Luo Chun, Huangshan Mao Feng, Lu Shan Yun Wu are harvested in early spring. Those teas harvested before Qingming festival have been promoted as the best of the best by tea lovers. Pre-ming tea is famous not only because of its bright green color and amazing aroma but also for its “good shape”. Seeing how leaves unfold gradually in water, move up and down, you could be captivated by a sense of calm and relief. So a big transparent glass is essential.

When preparing tea made from these leaves the water temperature should be around 85 degrees. The tenderer the tea is, the lower the water temperature should be. Boiling water can easily overheat tender leaves and spoil their taste. If you are a novice at making this tea, you can pour boiling water into a cup to cool them down the water temperature to 75-80 degrees and use that for brewing. This trick is easy and useful. Some tender leaves tea such as those in Bi Luo Chun should be put water in first.

Pu'er Tea

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Longjing steeping
in a tall glass
Pu’er, one of the most exotic teas, is green tea fermented with bacteria. Invented by Tang Dynasty traders. It is produced mainly from scrubby green tea trees that blanket the mountains of fabled Menghai County in Yunnan Province. Pu’er is pleasantly aromatic beverage that promoters claim reduces cholesterol and cures hangovers. The best pu’er teas are aged 20 to 60 years and has been described as being "like a monk — very plain, enduring."

Pu'er tea is sold as loose tea or pressed tea. Pu'er tea is considered different from other teas. The tea leaves are red brown. "Older is better." The older the tea the more concentrated the tea perfume is — and a better. About 20 grams of is used in 500 milliliters of boiling water. Boiling water can be added more than five times. This way drinking Pu'er tea more affordable.

The Jinou and Hani minorities are known in China for cultivating tea bushes that are the source expensive Pu’er tea. Some of the bushes are over 100 years old. Puer is known as “green gold.” It was a key trading item on the ancient “Tea and Horse Route.” Accounts of the health benefits and medical use of Pu'er tea have been documented in various ancient scripts and famous books throughout Chinese history. This tea is strongly believed to have wide ranging health benefits including diabetic control, prevention of heart disease, aiding digestion and losing weight. Pu'er tea has been popular in China for over 1,700 years. For centuries it was given as a tribute to the Emperor and high ranking officials within the imperial courts of China and the frequency of the tributes gave it the title "Tribute Tea". Tea is one of three most popular drinks in the world, along with coffee and cocoa. And Pu'er tea has of course been considered the king of teas. [Source: China Daily, June 11, 2009]

Pu’er has attained near-mythic status. A favorite of emperors and imbued with vague medicinal powers, Pu’er was supposedly invented by eighth-century horseback traders who compressed the tea leaves into cakes for easier transport. Unlike other types of tea, which are consumed not long after harvest, Pu’er tastes better with age. Prized vintages from the 19th century have sold for thousands of dollars a wedge. [Source: Andrew Jacobs, New York Times, January 16, 2008]

Over the past decade, the industry has been shaped in ways that mirror the Western fetishization of wine. Sellers charge a premium for batches picked from older plants or, even better, from wild tea trees that have survived the deforestation that scars much of the region. Enthusiasts talk about oxidation levels, loose-leaf versus compacted and whether the tea was harvested in the spring or the summer. (Spring tea, many believe, is more flavorful.) If you study Pu’er your whole life, you still can’t recognize the differences in the teas, one tea buyer said. . I tell people to just buy what tastes good and don’t worry about anything else.

World's Most Expensive Tea: Grown from Panda Droppings

In January 2012, AFP reported: “Chinese entrepreneur An Yanshi is convinced he has found the key ingredient to produce the world's most expensive tea — panda dung. The former calligraphy teacher has purchased 11 tonnes of feces from a panda breeding centre to fertilise a tea crop in the mountains of Sichuan province in southwestern China. An says he will harvest the first batch of tea leaves this spring and it will be the "world's most expensive tea" at almost 220,000 yuan ($35,000) for 500 grams (18 ounces). [Source: Allison Jackson, AFP, January 10, 2012]

Chinese tea drinkers regard the first batch of tea to be harvested in the early spring as the best and successive batches, regarded as inferior, will sell for around 20,000 yuan. The 41 year-old, who is so passionate about his new project he dressed in a panda suit for his interview with AFP, has been ridiculed by some in China for his extravagant claims of the potential health benefits of the tea.

But he insists he is deadly serious, saying he quit his job at Sichuan University to throw himself "heart and soul" into his company, Panda Tea, whose logo features a smiling panda wearing a bow tie and holding a steaming glass of green tea. While An hopes to make money from the tea, which he has planted on just over a hectare (2.5 acres) of land, his main mission is to convince the world to protect the environment and replace chemical fertilisers with animal feces — before it is too late.

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Jin Fo Oolong tea leaf
"Panda dung is rich in nutrition ... and should be much better than chemical fertilisers," An said, as he sat at a traditional Chinese tea table drinking tea grown with cow manure. "People should make a harmonious relationship with heaven, earth and the environment," An said. "Everybody has an obligation to protect the environment," he added, as he showed AFP dozens of traditional Chinese scroll paintings that he has created of cheerful-looking pandas, bamboo and calligraphy.

The tea aficionado got the idea to use panda faeces as fertiliser after attending a seminar last year where he discovered that the bears absorbed less than 30 per cent of the bamboo they consumed, excreting the remaining 70 per cent. An showed journalists a glass jar of fresh-looking panda faeces, which he uses to fertilise two tea plants in his office, noting the "quality" and "green" colour of the dung. He is so convinced that Panda Tea will be a hit that he has patented the idea to prevent a competitor stealing it — a common occurrence in a country where laws protecting intellectual property rights are often flouted.

His claim that the green tea will help people lose weight and protect them from radiation has been ridiculed by some Chinese web users, who have expressed doubts about the purported health benefits of the tea and the high asking price for the first harvest. "If it is such a good fertiliser for tea plants, I want to ask this teacher: why don't you just eat panda dung? Then you can get the rest of the 70 per cent nutrition," a web user called Baihuashu said. Another web user called 24-0 said: "Over 200,000 yuan per jin (500 grams) for panda tea fertilised by panda droppings — is that for drinking tea or drinking pandas' blood?"

Despite the online detractors of his yet-to-be-tested tea, An said he remained undeterred and was already thinking about expanding his business. "After the first batch is harvested, if the quality is really good, we will expand the economies of scale," said An, waving his panda paws for emphasis.

Image Sources: Mostly Wiki Commons plus 1) Columbia University, University of Washington, Nolls China website, Julie Chao

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2021

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