For a starting tea drinker who’s about to explore Chinese teas, the hundreds of kinds of teas in China can be overwhelming. In this article, we’ll introduce the 10 most popular Chinese teas. These will be a great starting point for your tea journey as the below teas will also cover all the 6 main types of tea (white, green, black etc).
1. Long Jing 龙井 (West Lake Dragon Well)
Without a single doubt, Longjing (Dragon Well) green tea is the most popular and well known tea in China. Original Longjing is produced in the West Lake region south of Hangzhou. An authentic Longjing tea comes from one of the 5 legendary longjing villages.
That said, don’t write off Dragon Well teas that are produced in other regions in China. Due to the popularity of this tea, other regions in China have also accumulated decades of experience in crafting excellent Longjing.
Many of you will be looking for the ‘best Chinese tea’. We doubt there’s such a thing, because taste is always personal. But we can say without doubt that Dragon Well tea is the most popular tea in China. So if demand is the measure, then this is the tea you must try.
Some advice when purchasing:
- The more affordable Dragon Well teas have a nuttier and more robust aroma. If that’s what you like, there’s no need to go for premium Longjing. Freshness does matter a lot though.
- Premium longjing teas (1 bud 2 leaves or 1 bud and 1 leaf) tend have a light and green beans flavour. When you brew premium longjing, go for a straight transparent glass to appreciate the appearance. See for example the video below:
2. Bi Luo Chun (碧螺春）Green Tea (Green Spring Snail)
Bi Luo Chun green tea is the second most well known tea right after Longjing. Its name is inspired by its curly shape, which resembles a snail house. Original Bi Luo Chun is produced in the Tai Lake region in Dongding Mountain.
Relative to Longjing, a Bi Luo Chun green tea has a more robust, vegetal and flowery aroma. If you’re seeking a strong green tea, Bi Luo Chun is your best Chinese tea to get.
While you’re sipping this tea, also read: The Tale of Bi Luo Chun.
3. Huang Shan Mao Feng (黄山毛峰) Green Tea (Yellow Furry Peak)
The last green tea that we’ll introduce in this article is the Huang Shan Mao Feng. When literally translated, it means ‘Yellow Furry Peak’. The name is inspired by it’s origin (Yellow Mountain) and it’s furry and straight appearance.
While the furry surface of Longjing tea often disappears due to the strong pan roasting process, the lighter processing of Huang Shan Mao Feng results in the preservation of the white furry hairs on the buds. That’s what makes the appearance of this green tea truly unique.
While Bi Luo Chun is populair among tea lovers that prefer a strong green tea, Huang Shan Maofeng is loved by those who love a delicate and subtle tasting tea.
4. Jasmine Tea
Jasmine tea is possibly the most popular Chinese tea abroad. Most Jasmine teas use green tea as its base, which are scented with Jasmine flowers. However, white tea is also often used.
Jasmine teas may come in different shapes such as pearls, silver needles, rings, or simply in loose leaves. Jasmine flowers may be blended in with the leaves, though this isn’t necessary. The flowers are mainly for decorative purposes as the scent of the flowers are already absorbed by the dry tea leaves.
5. Lapsang Souchong (正山小种) & Jin Jun Mei (金骏眉）Black Teas
When you’re seeking a populair black tea, you’ve to start with teas from the Wuyi Mountain area (Fujian Province). This region can be considered the Mekka of black tea. The single most popular black tea in China is the Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong (or ‘Lapsang Souchong’). This tea may have a bad reputation abroad, because mostly low quality and smokey Lapsang Souchongs are exported from China. Luckily, in China you can find high quality version which are deliciously sweet with subtle smoky aroma. Lapsang Souchong is the best Chinese tea to get when you want to explore popular Chinese black teas.
Looking for a subtle black tea? Then go for Jin Jun Mei (Golden Eyebrows) black tea. This tea is in fact a higher grade Lapsang Souchong. The name ‘Golden Eyebrows’ refers to the golden yellow/orange colour of the dry leaves. Like Huang Shan Mao Feng green teas, the leaves of Jin Jun Mei are covered with furry hairs. Due to the stronger processing of black tea, the furry hairs turn into a golden color, which results in a beautiful appearance.
Both teas are often processed in honey aroma style or a more tarty longan/jujube fruit style.
6 Dian Hong (滇红) Black Tea
In the past, the tea growers in Yunnan looked jealously to the succes of the black teas from Wuyi Mountain region, and they decided to develop their own black tea. The result is a high fragrant and delicate Dian Hong black tea. Due to its golden appearance, it’s also known as ‘Yunnan Gold’ in the West.
Unlike Wuyi Black teas, which are made from the small leaf cultivar, Yunnan’s black teas are made from the large leaf cultivar that are also used for their pu erh teas. Yunnan’s black teas are generally more delicate and light in flavour and often last more steeps (when brewed the traditional way).
On the other hand, Wuyishan’s black teas are more robust in flavour. Due to the smaller leaf size, it will release their flavour faster.
Dian Hong may be made in different shapes: curly leaves, straight needles (as in the picture above), and pearls. Some Dian Hong teas may be fully golden, while others consist of a mix of black and golden leaves. When a Dian Hong consists of more golden leaves, the means it’s a higher grade tea. However, appearance isn’t what only matters. Often times, freshness and craftsmanship matters more than just the appearance.
7 Bai Mu Dan (白牡丹) & Silver Needle (白毫银针) White Teas
In the past decade, the popularity of Chinese white tea has surged significantly due to its claimed health benefits. Most white teas are produced in Fujian, while the Yunnan province is nowadays also playing catch up.
The most classic types of white tea are Silver Needle and White Peony (Bai Mu Dan). The first, is the premium kind which consists only out of straight furry buds, while the latter may consist of a blend of leaves and buds. As a result Bai Mu Dan is more affordable.
As you may expect, Silver Needles are more light and flowery in flavour, while the White Peony have a stronger flavour with a more nutty taste.
At last, there are aged white teas. These are often made from Bai Mu Dan or Silver Needle teas, which are steamed and pressed into cakes. Aged white teas, may obtain flavours of herbs and ripe fruits over time.
8. Tie Guan Yin (铁观音) Oolong Tea
Unlike green and black tea, oolong tea is less well known outside of China. One of the most famous oolong teas is Tie Guan Yin (Iron Buddha). This oolong is tightly rolled and when you drop a few pieces in a tea vessel, it will sounds like ‘iron’.
Together with jasmine tea and pu erh tea, it’s one of the most served teas in Chinese restaurants.
Tie Guan Yin tea ideal indeed ideal during; Its strong flavour and robust flowery aroma aren’t easily overpowered by food. Moreover, the semi-fermentation of the leaves result in a smooth and highly accessible flavour. Unlike, fresh green teas, you won’t easily experience astringency in most Tie Guan Yin teas.
For those who love Chinese green teas, we highly recommend to also try this popular oolong.
9. Da Hong Pao (大红袍) Oolong Tea
Tea lovers that look for a powerful oolong tea, while likely end up loving Da Hong Pao. Its name ‘Big Red Robe’ is owned to its legendary tale. Its leaves are grown below the rocks of the Wuyi Mountain. The unique soil in this regions allows Da Hong Pao to have this special mineral flavour. Among all kinds of Chinese teas, dark oolongs like Da Hong Pao, are the hardest to copy in other tea regions in China. The closest dark oolong from another region is the Dan Cong oolong from Guangdong province, yet still very different in flavour profile.
While the Wuyishan regions produces lots of robust oolongs like (e.g. Shuixian, Rougui, Bei Dou, Tie Luo Han), the classic Da Hong Pao is probably the best starting point for exploring this category of dark oolongs. Click this link if you want to know more about Wu Yi Tea classification.
10. Pu Erh Tea
At last, there is pu erh tea (or dark tea). It’s probably unfair call this a kind of tea, since it really is a category in itself. As this tea type undergoes ‘post fermentation’ it may result in a much greater range of flavours relative to other tea types. Moreover, the distinction between raw and ripe pu erh tea is important.
The flavour of a fresh raw pu erh comes close to that of a green tea. Because pu erh tea don’t expire and improve flavour as it ages, they will become more smooth, less astringent and more sweet over time. Raw pu erh teas flavours will transform from vegetal and grassy to flowery, fruity and herbal-like.
On the other hand, ripe pu erh is basically made from raw pu erh teas that undergo an additional wet piling process. This results in a completely different taste profile characterised by notes of earth, chocolate, spices, wet straw and forest.
Because tea enthousiasts often times purchase this tea type for long term storage, they prefer to buy cakes, as they take up less space when stored.
For starters, ripe pu erh teas are generally the most suitable to start a pu erh journey. Especially if you like dark oolong and black teas. If you like green teas, raw pu erh tea will be the preferred choice.
When you’re not very familiar with brewing pu erh, we highly recommend to read this article: How To Brew Pu Erh Tea. This article also contains a pu erh tea flavour wheel, which is highly recommend when you’re just about to discover the different flavours.
In this article, we’ve tried to provide as much as details as possible for the teas introduced. At the same time, we’ve attempted not to overwhelm you with too much information. If you’re about to start your tea journey, we hope this article offers great insights for you to make a conscious purchase. If you’ve any questions, feel free to leave comments below.