Focus China: Favorite Teas

Tea is the most popular drink in China, and has been for a very long time. There are many different types of tea, but all of it comes from the plant called Camellia sinesis. Workers harvest the leaves from various parts of the plant at specific times of the year to produce a variety of tea qualities. The method in which the leaves are processed also dictates a tea’s final color and flavor. China grows and processes all the tea consumed in the country, and there are over 800 to 1000 different regional varieties making it difficult to pick the most popular.

It is possible to boil the Chinese favorite teas down to several categories. The most popular tea in China is by far green tea. These leaves are young and dried over a charcoal fire. This stops the oxidizing and they retain their lovely green color and fresh spring-like flavor. Dragon Well aka Long Jing tea, and Eyes on Heaven aka Tian Mu tea are some of the best green teas in China. Both these teas are rather expensive and are not for every day use. For a connoisseur it is a “must have” experience at least once.  

You will see black tea in China although the overall popularity of it comes from non-Chinese consumers. The tea leaves in black tea are completely oxidized, which gives them that distinct color. Chinese call this type of tea red tea because of the reddish tinge to the leaves and steeped tea. A Cantonese favorite black tea is Bo Lee often served with dim sum. Luk is another black tea that has a milder flavor. 

Oolong tea is only partially fermented and has a distinct bitter or smoky flavor. Gunpowder tea is a sub-class of oolong where workers hand-shape the leaves into hard pellets. Other oolong in leaf form includes Soi sin or the more expensive Tei Guanyin, both of which (again) appear on the table only for special occasions. 

White tea is the most delicate of all the teas and is gaining in popularity in China. Like green tea, it has many health benefits because it contains antioxidants that cleanse the body of toxins. This tea comes from immature tea leaves, picked before it even opens.  Silver needle is a popular white tea that comes at a high price, but it’s worthy of every dollar. 

Yellow tea is lightly fermented and dried slower than green tea. The leaves actually look yellow and they often need something added to give the tea flavor. Herbs or flowers commonly create that necessary flavor profile. 

Scented teas are also very popular in China. Made by mixing green, yellow or oolong tealeaves with dried flower petals, the result is a fully fragrant tea. Jasmine tea is one good example, but there are also teas containing chrysanthemum, magnolia, gardenia and rose petals. 

The Chinese enjoy a variety of teas. Green tea is their absolute favorite but their diet is not restricted to just one type. To the Chinese variety is the spice of life, and the spice of life is TEA.

Unity Teapots sells fine Asian tea ware, and is a great place to shop for a japanese tea set, a kyusu, or a cast iron teapot.

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