Categories Of Chinese Tea
There are 4 categories of Chinese tea, defined by the method of oxidation used in the processing:
Non-oxidized Chinese teas are known as green tea, white tea (and yellow tea which is very rare). The leaves are simply picked, then dried and then packaged. The leaves may be steamed, flattened, twisted or rolled into little balls to accentuate the tea's fragrance or taste. This process permits little oxidization of the leaves and retains the fresh taste of the leaves. Contrary to popular belief, Chinese green teas may contain more caffeine that Chinese black teas but both are less than the black teas consumed in the West that originate from India, and all teas are significantly less than coffee (see Tea & Health: Caffeine for a fuller discussion).
See all our Green Teas and White Teas
Fully oxidized teas are known in the West as Black teas (known as Red Teas in China). The flavour is developed by keeping the leaves warm and moist for a few hours which turns them black as the chemicals in the leaves break them down by reacting with the air. The leaves are then dried by a variety of methods which affects the taste and then graded and packaged.
These are the Oolong teas that are sometimes called semi-green or blue-green tea. The process is the same as the oxidized type above with the time of oxidization adjusted to make the tea taste more green or black and bring out certain taste characteristics.
This is the famous Pu-Erh tea (Bow Lay in Cantonese) from Yunnan province. After processing it may be compressed and stored in cool dry cellars, sometimes for many years and even decades before it is made available for purchase. This aging has a further mellowing effect and adds complexity to the flavour.
See all our Pu-erh Teas and Hei Cha Teas
In addition to the 4 basic categories above, there are 2 additional ones:
As the name suggests, a distinctive flavour is imparted to the leaves by exposing them to the smoke from different types of burning wood. Smoked teas can range from lightly to heavily smoked. Examples are Monkey Pick Tea, one of the three varieties of Da Hong Pao and Lapsang Souchong.
Scented or Flavoured Teas
These come in 2 types: natural and artificial and there are high and low grades of each type. High grade Dragon Pearl Jasmine tea uses fresh Jasmine flowers which are overlaid on top of the tea leaves multiple times during processing, imparting a delicate flowery flavour. Lower grades use few flowers and layerings or an artificial flavouring. Tea flavoured with lychee fruit is also very popular and there are some high grade teas of this type available. Beware of scented teas which use low grade leaves and artificial flavours.
To see how tea is made, see a chart on How Chinese Tea Is Made
Chart - Popular Chinese Teas by Oxidization Type
|Loong Jien (also called Dragon Well)||Very fresh green taste with slightly grassy and nutty overtones|
|Pi Lo Chun||Smooth, mellow and rich green leaf taste|
|Dragon Pearl Jasmine||Rich perfume fragrance and flowery taste|
|Silver Needle||Very delicate, smooth and sweet flavor with fruity tones|
|White Peony||Smooth, creamy and buttery green taste, slightly flowery|
(fully oxidized, known as Red Tea in China)
|Golden Tips Red||Unique fruity taste with a touch of peach|
|Yunnan Wild Gu Shu Black Tea||Dark, rich and smoky|
|Iron Buddha Oolong||Spring Pick: Flowery fragrance and sweet taste
Fall Pick: Light fragrance and deep, complex flowery taste
|Taiwan Oolong (also called High Mountain Oolong)||A wonderful 'everyday' tea - Fresh, slightly fruity and flowery aroma and taste|
Da Hong Pao (also called Big Red Robe,
|3 types: Slightly Oxidized, Slightly Roasted, Full Roasted
Slightly Oxidized has a rich and complex green taste
Slightly Roasted has a light and complex smoky taste
Full Roasted has a rich smoky taste
|Phoenix Tea||2 types; Honey and Flower Teas. Full and rich tastes and aromas|
|Monkey Pick Tea (also called Smoked Tie Guan Yin)||Roasted, full smoky taste|
|Pu-Erh Sheng (also called Bow Lay, Raw, Un-cooked, Green Health Tea||Comes in green and black varieties, either loose leaves or compressed. Has rich, smooth and earthy tastes with complex overtones ranging from plums to dates to chocolate. Pu-Erh is stored for many years and even decades in cool, dry cellars which has a further mellowing effect and adds smoothness and complexity. Sold like vintage wine. Some ”vintages” are very rare and expensive.|
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