An Overview of the Types of Chinese Tea

Commonly Chinese tea is classified into six types namely white, yellow, Pu-er, green, black and oolong. There are other types of tea related beverages that do not originate from the camellia sinensis plant are generally classified as herbal tea or flower tea such as chrysanthemum or chamomile.

Even the general classification of the tea types is slightly contentious as we will see later.

1)      White tea (白茶)

White teas are the least oxidized of all types and are the simplest to process with sunning replacing pan-frying. After the leaves have withered under direct sunlight, they are dried and ready for consumption.

If you sniff the leaves carefully, you can actually identify the ‘smell’ of the sun similar to the smell of your clothes after an entire day in the sun.

Some of the more well-known white teas include the white haired silver needles (白毫银针) and the white peony (白牡丹).

Generally though, white teas are less popular compared with their more renowned cousins

2)      Green tea (绿茶)

From the neglected cousin to the other end of the spectrum, green teas make up at least four of any given list of China Top Ten Famous Teas with the Longjing (龙井) possibly the most famous of all Chinese tea.

Other well-known green teas include Bilochun (碧螺春), Houkui (猴魁) and the Huangshan Hairy Peak (黄山毛峰).

Increasingly beloved by foreigners and locals alike, green tea is favored for its refreshing mild taste and the effect it has on digestion. Of course, green tea is also popular because of its association with longevity, thanks to the Japanese.

3)      Oolong tea or dark green tea (乌龙茶或清茶)

Though many in China especially, call it dark green tea, in western conventions it is usually simply known as oolong. Oolong has a distinctive unmistakable rich taste and strong lingering aroma.

Popular oolong includes Tieguanyin (铁观音),Big Red Robe (大红袍) and Wuyi Rou Gui (武夷肉桂).

In my opinion oolong is possibly the most polarizing type of tea, either you adore it (as I do) or you find it overpowering. Once you have tasted it, it is very unlikely that you don’t have an opinion.

4)      Black tea (红茶)

As I mentioned earlier, the classification is slightly contentious as western conventions call it ‘black’ while Chinese call it ‘red’. The difference arises when the westerners classify according to the color of the leaves while the Chinese base it on the color of the brewed tea.

In any case, black teas are by far the most popular in the western world, although the trend is reversing. Famous black teas include lapsang souchong (正山小种), Keemun Gongfu (祁门功夫) and Darjeeling.

We will be looking at the history of black tea and its foray into the western world in a later post but first the ‘other’ black tea.

5)      Pu-er or black tea (普洱或黑茶)

According to Chinese classifications, this is known as black tea (黑茶) but to avoid confusion with its cousin, most writers in English call it Pu-er after the most famous tea in this category. These teas are unique in that they are post-fermented and like fine wines, they age gracefully.

Besides the well-loved Yunnan Pu-er, Hunan Black tea (湖南黑茶) and Liubao tea (六堡茶)are the more common types of ‘black tea’.

6)      Yellow tea (黄茶)

The yellow tea is last on the list and possibly least in popularity. Though its manufacturing process is similar to green tea, the drying process is slower and the leaves are allowed to turn yellow.

Apart from the Junshan Silver Needles (君山银针) which is a common fixture on the China Top Ten Famous Tea list only the Houshan Huangya (霍山黄芽)should be well-known to all but tea aficionados

I would be taking and posting some pictures once I buy some nice tea ‘plates’ to hold them but for now we have to live with text alone since I don’t think I can find that royalty free images of every type of tea.

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