Did you know the practice of drinking tea originated thousands of years ago in Ancient China?
In fact, there are several types of Chinese tea out there. Each has distinct characteristics and flavour profiles due to different processing techniques.
Today, we'll explore what is Chinese tea, including its story and rich history. We'll then discover the main types of Chinese tea out there including everything from the rich, full-bodied black tea to the lighter green tea.
What Is Chinese Tea?
Chinese tea is a traditional Asian drink brewed from the leaves of the evergreen Camellia Sinensis plant. The name captures its origins well as "Sinesis" means "From China" in Latin.
As a key part of Chinese culture, tea drinking has a rich history and tradition. According to legend, Chinese tea was first discovered 5,000 years ago by the Chinese Emperor Shen Nong when a leaf fell into boiling water in front of him.
Main Types of Chinese Tea
There are several distinct types of Chinese tea from processing Chinese tea leaves (Camellia Sinensis) in different ways. The 6 most common Chinese tea varieties are:
- Black Tea
- Green Tea
- Oolong Tea
- White Tea
- Yellow Tea
- Dark Tea
There are other types of Chinese teas that don't rely solely on Chinese tea leaves such as Chinese scented teas and Chinese herbal teas.
#1 Chinese Black Tea
Black Chinese tea is made from leaves that have been allowed to fully oxidise, giving it a dark colour, malty flavour and rich aroma. Chinese black tea is often lighter and milder than other varieties of black tea, and is often enjoyed without milk or sugar. While this may be confusing, black tea is also known as red tea in China as its infusion produces a lovely, red hue.
This traditional Chinese tea comes in hundreds of varieties. Some of the most popular types of Chinese Black Tea include Keemun and Lapsang Souchong.
Moving from the robust characteristics of black tea, let’s delve into the freshness of green tea.
#2 Chinese Green Tea
Green tea has been enjoyed in China for thousands of years and is typically light green in colour with fresh, herby notes. Green tea goes through minimal processing. When its leaves are harvested, they undergo a pan-frying process known as "kill-green". This process halts oxidation and preserves its light, floral flavour.
Green tea from China tastes great when paired with light stir-fries, pastries and fruits. We personally love to enjoy a cup of green tea during the morning or after lunch.
Famous Chinese green tea varieties include Huangshan Maofeng, Biluochun and Longjing Tea.
If you are interested in learning more about Japanese tea, including Japanese green tea, then you may enjoy this page.
Now, journeying between the worlds of green and black teas, we encounter oolong.
#3 Oolong Tea
Oolong is a partially oxidised Chinese tea, that sits on a spectrum between green and black tea. When its leaves are more oxidised, oolong leans closer towards black tea and when it is less oxidised, oolong’s flavour profile is more like green tea.
A unique characteristic that sets oolong apart is its shape. Oolong is rolled, twisted and curled into tight balls or thin strands which can alter its final appearance, aroma and flavour.
Oolong tea is a personal favourite of ours and we love drinking it alongside dim sum or other Chinese meals as it aids digestion. Popular oolong varieties are Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) and Dong Ding Oolong.
From the complexity of oolong, we transition to the delicate nature of white tea.
#4 White Tea
White tea is harvested in spring when the leaves are still young and the buds are covered with tender white hairs, thus giving it its name ‘white tea’. Minimally processed and oxidised, this popular Chinese tea is light gold in colour with a subtle, delicate flavour.
Due to its light and fresh nature, white tea doesn’t go well with strong flavours and is best paired with seafood or salads. Famous white teas include Silver Needle and White Peony.
While white tea captivates with its subtlety, yellow tea surprises as a hidden treasure in the world of Chinese teas.
#5 Yellow Tea
Yellow tea is the hidden gem of Chinese teas, rare and once served only to rulers and aristocrats. It is similar to green tea but with a notable twist in its production. Before the leaves are completely dried, they are encased and steamed, which allows them to ferment and dry at a slower rate. This "yellowing" of the leaves tames the grassy taste associated with green tea. The result is a mellower flavour profile with a smooth, luxurious texture.
Prominent yellow teas include Jun Shan Yin Zhen and Huo Shan Huang Ya.
Next, we plunge into the depths of dark tea, revealing its ancient origins and rich flavours.
#6 Dark Tea
Dark tea is often referred to as China's authentic black tea. The leaves of this Chinese tea go through a secondary fermentation process using microbes and are aged for anywhere from a few months to a few years. Dark tea has a sweet and woodsy taste and is great as an all-day drinking tea.
The most famous dark tea, Puerh, is made specifically from leaves that grow in the Yunnan region. Puerh tea is sometimes referred to as Chinese slimming tea. Some people believe it has health benefits and it is frequently used by people wishing to lose weight or improve cholesterol.
From the profound essence of dark teas, we now explore the aromatic enchantment of scented teas.
Diverging a bit from traditional tea leaves, let’s immerse ourselves in the herbal blends that have graced Chinese traditions.
#7 Chinese Herbal Tea
Chinese herbal tea is made from an infusion of fresh or dried flowers, fruit, leaves, or seeds. It differs from other Chinese teas in the sense that it does not contain tea leaves but is brewed from other plant materials.
As it is typically decaffeinated, herbal tea makes for a great night-time beverage. Well-known Chinese herbal teas include wolfberry tea and chrysanthemum tea.
Styles of Chinese Tea
Aside from the classic method of brewing a cup of tea, Chinese tea can also be served in a few other different styles. These include blooming tea, scented teas, ground tea, kombucha and even bubble tea.
#1 Chinese Blooming Tea
Blooming tea is made when tea leaves and flowers are hand-tied together in a bulb and dried. When steeped in water, the leaves unfurl and blossom into a beautiful visual of a blooming flower.
#2 Chinese Scented Tea
Scented tea is made by combining tea leaves with scented flowers. The tea has to be scented several times for about 2-3 weeks, as the tea leaves work to slowly absorb the aroma and flavour of its surroundings. Scented tea often has sweet notes and a floral fragrance.
Popular scented teas include jasmine tea and osmanthus tea.
#3 Chinese Ground Tea
Ground tea is made by pounding tea leaves with various roasted nuts, seeds and grains. Ground tea soup forms an integral part of Hakka cuisine and is served by pouring over rice.
Kombucha is fermented and sweetened with a green or black tea base and is traditionally prized for its healing properties. While kombucha might be all the rage in the modern health world, its origins date back thousands of years to China.
#5 Bubble Tea
Bubble tea most commonly consists of milky tea to which chewy tapioca balls and flavourings are added.
How To Make Chinese Tea (The Easy Way)
Standard Chinese tea can be straightforward to make and enjoy. Here's a quick step by step guide:
- Select your preferred type of Chinese tea such as Oolong, Green, Black, or Puerh.
- Boil water and allow to cool to the appropriate temperature for your tea type (usually around 80-90°C for most varieties).
- Add the tea leaves to a teapot or a cup.
- Pour enough hot water to cover the tea leaves, and immediately rinse out the water.
- Pour hot water to fill pot or cup and let them steep for 30 seconds to a few minutes, depending on the strength you prefer.
- Finally, strain the tea into a cup and enjoy its authentic taste.
- Repeat steps 5 and 6 by reusing the tea leaves 3-5 times depending on your taste preference (optional)
Benefits of Chinese Tea
There are many health benefits attributed to drinking Chinese tea. Some originate from traditional wisdom and others are backed by science.
For example, Penn Medicine shares that oolong tea is high in polyphenols, which are linked to lowering inflammation in your body.
Oolong also contains l-theanine. Some believe this can help prevent cognitive diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.
Green tea is also known for promoting heart health by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.
Some believe that white tea can reduce the risk of cancer due to its high antioxidant levels.
In some circles, Chinese tea is used as a slimming tea and there are some studies showing a connection between drinking tea and reducing fat.
So, which do you think is the best Chinese tea? With so many varieties and flavours to choose from, not to mention its many benefits, it may be hard to settle on just one. So put on the kettle and enjoy a warm cup of one of the most comforting and popular Asian drinks!