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Complete Guide to Chinese Tea

Complete Guide to Chinese Tea

            Chinese tea culture has a long and rich history, and China is known for its diverse variety of teas. Based on different production processes, fermentation levels, and colors, Chinese teas can be categorized into six main types: green tea, white tea, yellow tea, oolong tea, black tea, and dark tea.

 

             The six types of Chinese tea and their fermentation levels are as follows: green tea is unfermented with a fermentation level below 5%; white tea is lightly fermented with a fermentation level between 5% and 10%; yellow tea is lightly fermented with a fermentation level between 10% and 20%; oolong tea, also known as semi-fermented tea, has a fermentation level between 15% and 50%; black tea is fully fermented with a fermentation level between 70% and 80%; and dark tea is post-fermented with a fermentation level of 100%.

 

             The nature of these teas varies as well. Green tea has a cool nature, white tea has a slightly cool or mild nature, yellow tea has a cool and mild nature, oolong tea has a moderate nature, black tea has a mild and warm nature, and dark tea has a mild and warm nature.

1.Green Tea:

Green tea is an unfermented tea with a fermentation level below 5%. It has a cool nature.

Key characteristics of green tea include clear soup and green leaves.

Green tea is the earliest type of tea in Chinese history and has the highest production volume, extensive research, and numerous famous varieties. China has a wide variety of green teas, making it a leader in the world.

The name “green tea” comes from its production process, which involves minimal fermentation. The leaves of green tea retain their natural green color, and the brewed tea has a green color as well.

The production process of green tea includes picking fresh leaves, fixation (to deactivate oxidative enzymes), rolling (to break the cell structure and shape the leaves), and drying (to remove moisture and enhance aroma).

Depending on the fixation and drying methods, green tea can be further classified into steamed green tea, pan-fired green tea, baked green tea, and sun-dried green tea.

Famous green teas include:

West Lake Longjing, 

Biluochun, 

Xinyang Maojian.

 

2.White Tea:

White tea is a lightly fermented tea with a fermentation level between 5% and 10%. Fresh white tea has a cool nature, while aged white tea has a milder nature.

Key characteristics of white tea include white fuzz covering the leaves, a yellow-green and clear soup color, and a mild and refreshing taste.

The production process of white tea is relatively simple and involves picking fresh leaves, withering, and drying. White tea does not undergo fixation and rolling processes. The leaves are naturally dried or gently roasted, preserving the intact white fuzz on the back of the leaves. This results in complete bud sets, abundant fuzz, a fresh aroma, a yellow-green and clear soup color, and a mild and refreshing taste.

White tea can be stored for a considerable period, with a shelf life ranging from 10 to 20 years. Properly stored white tea can improve in flavor with age. White tea aged for more than three years is considered aged white tea, often referred to as “one-year tea, three-year medicine, seven-year treasure.”

White tea is unique to China, with Fuding, Zhenghe, Songxi, and Jianyang counties in Fujian province being the main production areas. 

White tea can be categorized as bud tea or leaf tea. Silver Needle is a type of white tea made from single buds, while White Peony refers to white tea made from one bud and two or three leaves. Shou Mei is white tea made from one bud and three or more leaves.

 

3.Yellow Tea:

 

Yellow tea is a lightly fermented tea with a fermentation level ranging from 10% to 20%. It has a cooling nature.

Characteristics of yellow tea: yellow soup and yellow leaves.

The production process of yellow tea is similar to that of green tea. It involves four steps: fresh leaves, fixation, rolling, yellowing, and drying. It differs from green tea in that it includes an additional step of yellowing, which is the key process for achieving the characteristic qualities of “yellow soup and yellow leaves” in yellow tea.

Yellow tea is named so because the dry tea has a yellow color, the tea soup is yellow, and the leaves have a yellowish hue.

Based on the freshness and tenderness of the tea leaves, as well as the size of the leaves, yellow tea can be further categorized into different types such as Huangya tea, Huangxiao tea, and Huangda tea.

Yellow tea is a unique type of tea in China, but it is relatively less common compared to other types of tea.

Representative varieties of yellow tea include:

Mengding Huangya, 

Moganhuangya, 

Junshan Yinzhen.

4.Oolong Tea:

Oolong tea, also known as Qingcha, belongs to the category of semi-fermented tea. The fermentation level of oolong tea ranges from 15% to 50%.

Characteristics of oolong tea: green leaves with red edges, dark brown and glossy appearance, and a mellow and durable taste.

The production process of oolong tea generally involves five steps: fresh leaves, withering, shaking, frying, rolling, and baking. Shaking is a unique step in the production of oolong tea. During shaking, the fresh leaves collide with each other, resulting in partial fermentation and a series of biochemical changes. If observed closely, the middle part of oolong tea leaves appears green, while the edges turn red. This is the unique characteristic of “green leaves with red edges” and the “three reds and seven greens” in the leaves.

Oolong tea is considered a semi-fermented tea, occupying a middle ground between green tea and black tea. It combines the freshness of green tea with the mellow flavor of black tea.

There are four major categories of oolong tea: Minnan oolong tea, Minbei oolong tea, Guangdong oolong tea, and Taiwanese oolong tea. Anxi Tie Guan Yin represents Minnan oolong tea, Wuyi Rock Tea represents Minbei oolong tea, Chaozhou Fenghuang Dancong represents Guangdong oolong tea, and Taiwanese High Mountain Oolong represents Taiwanese oolong tea. Within the Wuyi Rock Tea category.

there are five major types: 

Da Hong Pao, 

Shui Xian, Rou Gui, 

Ming Cong, 

and Qi Zhong.

5.Black Tea:

 

Black tea is a fully fermented tea with a fermentation level ranging from 70% to 80%. It has a warming nature.

Characteristics of black tea: red soup and red leaves, with a sweet and mellow flavor.

The production process of black tea generally involves four steps: fresh leaves, withering, rolling, fermentation, and drying. The main difference between the production process of black tea and green tea is that black tea does not require fixation but undergoes withering to reduce moisture content, making the leaves soft. After rolling, the tea leaves are either twisted into strips or cut into segments, which damages the cellular structure of the leaves and allows polyphenols and oxidase to come into contact and further oxidize. This process is known as fermentation in black tea production. After fermentation, the tea leaves turn into red compounds, resulting in the characteristic qualities of red tea soup and red leaves.

Representative varieties of black tea include:

Fujian Black Tea, 

Keemun Black Tea, 

Yunnan Dian Hong Tea. 

Fujian Black Tea is further divided into Wuyi Black Tea, Tanyang Gongfu Tea, and Zhenghe Gongfu Tea. Wuyi Black Tea includes:

Jin Jun Mei, 

Yin Jun Mei, 

Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong.

6.Dark Tea:

Dark tea belongs to the category of post-fermented tea, with a fermentation level of 100%. It has a warming nature.

Characteristics of dark tea: black-brown and glossy appearance, and an orange-red soup color.

The production process of dark tea generally involves five steps: fresh leaves, fixation, initial rolling, pile fermentation, final rolling, and baking.

Dark tea gets its name from the long pile fermentation process during production, which results in the tea leaves having an oily black or dark brown color.

Dark tea is also known as “border tea” because the raw materials used in dark tea production are usually coarse and aged. It contains various essential vitamins and rare elements, making it an important source of nutrients for ethnic minorities living in border regions such as the Tibetan, Mongolian, and Uighur people in China.

Representative varieties of dark tea include:

Pu-erh tea, 

Liu Bao tea, 

Fu Brick tea. 

Pu-erh tea is further categorized into raw Pu-erh and ripe Pu-erh, with raw Pu-erh being naturally fermented and ripe Pu-erh undergoing an accelerated fermentation process. Pu-erh tea is known for its unique aging qualities and is highly sought after by tea connoisseurs.

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