What is Chinese Tea? Types, Styles, and Benefits!

Chinese tea, a traditional Asian drink, is brewed from the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant, where the word ‘Sinensis’ literally means ‘From China’ in Latin.

Depending on how the leaves are processed, the resulting tea will differ in characteristics and flavour profiles. While there are many types of Chinese teas, each brew is guaranteed to be unique and delightful!

Today, I would like to introduce you to the main types of Chinese teas out there, including some of my personal favourites!

Black Tea

Black tea is tea whose leaves 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, with some of the most popular ones being Keemun and Lapsang Souchong.

Chinese Black Tea

Moving from the robust characteristics of black tea, let’s delve into the freshness of green tea.

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, it undergoes a pan-frying process known as kill-green to halt oxidation and preserve its light, floral flavour. Green tea from China tastes great when paired with light stir-fries, pastries and fruits. I 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.

Chinese Green Tea Leaves

Now, journeying between the worlds of green and black teas, we encounter oolong.

Oolong Tea

Oolong is a partially oxidised Chinese tea, sitting on a spectrum between green and black tea. When its leaves are more oxidised, oolong leans closer towards black tea and when it's 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 mine and I 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.

Chinese Oolong Tea Leaves

From the complexity of oolong, we transition to the delicate nature of white tea.

White Tea

White tea is harvested in springtime when the leaves are still young and the buds are covered in 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.

Chinese White Tea Leaves

While white tea captivates with its subtlety, yellow tea surprises as a hidden treasure in the world of Chinese teas. 

Yellow Tea

Yellow tea is the hidden gem of Chinese teas, rare and once served only to rulers and aristocrats. It’s most similar to green tea but with a notable twist in its production. Before the leaves are completely dried, it is encased and steamed, which allows it to ferment and dry at a slower rate. This ‘yellowing’ of the leaves tames the grassy taste associated with green tea and creates a mellower flavour profile with a smooth, luxurious texture. Prominent yellow teas include Jun Shan Yin Zhen and Huo Shan Huang Ya.

Chinese Yellow Tea Leaves

Next, we plunge into the depths of dark tea, revealing its ancient origins and rich flavours.

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, Pu Erh, is made specially from leaves that grow in the Yunnan region. Pu Erh tea is believed to have various health benefits and is frequently used by people wishing to lose weight or improve cholesterol.

Chinese Dark Tea Leaves

From the profound essence of dark teas, we now explore the aromatic enchantment of scented teas.

Scented Tea

Scented tea is made by combining tea leaves with scented flowers. The tea has to be scented multiple 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.

Chinese Jasmine Tea Leaves

Diverging a bit from traditional tea leaves, let’s immerse ourselves in the herbal blends that have graced Chinese traditions.

Herbal Tea

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 actually contain tea and is brewed from other plant material. 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.

Chrysanthemum Tea Leaves

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 such as blooming tea, ground tea, kombucha or even bubble 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. Ground tea on the other hand 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. While kombucha might be all the rage in the modern health world, its origins date back thousands of years from China. Kombucha is fermented and sweetened with a green or black tea base and is traditionally prized for its healing properties. Bubble tea most commonly consists of a milky tea to which is added chewy tapioca balls and flavouring.

Chinese Blooming Tea

Benefits of Chinese Tea

There are many health benefits attributed to drinking Chinese tea, some of which are linked to traditional wisdom and some 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 which can help prevent cognitive diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. Green tea is also known to promote heart health by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol while white tea may be useful to ward off cancer due to its high level of antioxidants. In some circles, Chinese tea is also used as a slimming tea as there are some studies showing a connection between drinking tea and reducing fat.

Final Word

So which tea 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 one. So just pop on a kettle, sink into a warm cuppa and enjoy one of the most comforting and popular Asian drinks!