Drinking tea is a tradition embedded in Chinese culture. As one of the oldest beverages on the planet, Chinese tea has had centuries to evolve. The long history behind Chinese tea means there’s a brilliant backstory and heritage to explore, and a vast selection of tea varieties to try.
Although there are four basic types of Chinese tea – black, green, oolong, and white – at last count there were more than 2,000 specialist varieties of Chinese tea. A figure that means you’re certain to be drinking a lot of tea on your upcoming trip to China. To ensure you don’t get overwhelmed by the many types of Chinese tea available, we’ve devised a handy list of the most popular Chinese tea varieties to try so you can sample the best of the best.
Known as ‘Dragon Well Tea’, this popular Chinese green tea is perfect for those with a sweet tooth and a gentle palette. An essential part of Hangzhou culture in particular, Longjing tea isn’t the cheapest or the easiest to access, eager tea drinkers have to wait up to 10 hours for its preparation.
Unlike many Chinese tea varieties, Longjing tea leaves can be eaten afterwards. Known as the ‘tea of emperors’, Longjing also has a fascinating history to explore, as The Right Tea explains:
“This green tea is indeed a world full of elegance, benefits and history, starting with its name. This Chinese tea is also known as Dragon Well tea, and there is more than one legend to explain this mysterious name. According to one version, in ancient times, people believed that a dragon lived in the village well, controlling the rainfall. They would actually visit the well and pray for rain. Another legend says that the name Longjing is both the name of a water spring and the name of a temple, where monks planted tea trees.”
Looking for something fruitier? Then Tieguanyin, or “Iron Goddess”, tea is the right choice for you. This oolong tea variety is produced and consumed in Anxi County in the Fujian province, and demonstrates the raw quality that Chinese tea is known for. As with any good Chinese tea, Tieguanyin is hours in the making, undergoing eight processes in total (namely plucking, sun withering, cooling, tossing, withering, fixation, rolling, and drying) before it’s served.
Another fruity tea choice, Keemun tea may have the shortest history on our most popular list. It was first produced some 137 years ago but it was an innovative step forward for Anhui, the eastern Chinese region it originates from. Before its production, the region only had green tea – with this fruity, flowery, dried plum black tea now the exception to this rule.
Lu’an Melon Seed
We’re staying in Anhui for the next variety. Native to Lu’an City, Lu’an Melon Seed offers a bitterness and sweetness that’s favoured by many. The tea’s name comes from the shape of the tea leaves, which resemble a melon seed thanks to their flat and oval nature. Lu’an Melon Seed isn’t just tasty, it’s thought to have health benefits too. This variety is actually used by locals to prevent sunstroke.
Whatever type of Chinese tea takes your fancy, enjoying the experience of drinking your tea in an authentic Chinese tea house is a must. Read our guide to visiting a Chinese tea house before you go.