The Ultimate Guide to Chinese Tea
Chinese is arguably the king of tea (sorry Britain and India). But there are so many different types of tea that Chinese people drink. We decided to break it down into a simple, handy guide for you to use when picking your next cup!
Oolong Tea 乌龙茶 Wū Lóng Chá
Oolong tea is one of the most diverse teas out there. You can brew cups as light as water and as dark as coffee. It all depends on the type of leaf you use and how many times you steep it. Some leaves can be re-steeped over 10 times and still produce a strong flavor.
If you prefer that lighter, fresher taste for your tea, look for the greener oolongs. They will usually be balled up and come from the high mountains of Taiwan. China has recently been getting into the ligh Oolong game with lighter roasted leaves called tieguanyin “铁观音.”
For medium darkness and taste, try more oxidized oolong leaves that are darker green and brownish colored. The longer oxidation period brings out more nutty and spiced flavors from the leaves that are sure to warm you up. These medium teas can also be steep more times than lighter ones.
The darkest oolong is just as strong as coffee. The dark oolongs grow up on the Wuyi mountains in China and have chocolately, earthy and mineraly flavors. Unlike the lighter ones, dark oolongs are long, twisted and black. If you’re trying to make the switch from coffee to tea, maybe start here.
There are numerous health benefits tied to tea, especially oolong tea.
- Oolong tea helps with weight loss as it helps control metabolism of fat
- Daily consumption of oolong tea can help with your dry skin issues
- It is packed with antioxidants that help strengthen teeth and bones
- Oolong tea helps you relax, which promotes stress relief
Pu Er Tea 普洱茶 Pǔ’ěr chá
Pu Er Tea is one of the oldest teas in the world and comes from the Yunnan province in southern China. Because of the way it is fermented and oxidized, Pu Er is a very dark tea with a strong taste. It is even called a “living tea” because it will continue to naturally ferment itself over time, like fine wine. The name for this tea comes from the trading post for dark tea in Imperial China.
Young and Raw: Pu Er takes many years to mature. Younger Pu Er leaves resemble green tea leaves and tends to be lighter. Young Pu Er is typically a little bit more bitter and grassy, but fresher. While it is a particular taste that a lot of tea drinkers may not like, it is heavily sought after by Pu Er fanatics. Not all Pu Er varieties make for a delicious young and raw type, so it’s harder to find excellent brands of this kind.
Aged and Raw: So this may seem conterintuitive, but Pu Er can be both raw and old. After the raw tea is dried, it doesn’t go through fermentation and instead gets stored for a long time to age it. Unlike the young and raw varieties, aged and raw has a woodsy, earthy flavor with some fruity hints in it. The younger side of the aged and raw Pu Er is around 7 years, and the older it is, the more variety in taste there is.
Ripe: The ripe varieties of Pu Er are usually the darkest and took decades to mature before a shortcut method was developed in the 70s. It tastes thicker than the other kinds and is usually sweeter, similar to a latte. This kind of Pu Er will sit a little heavier in your stomach. The shortcut method ripe Pu Er is cheaper than the real, decade aged ripe Pu Er as it is made with lower quality leaves.
Pu Er has one of the strongest tea drinking cultures in all of China. Drinking Pu Er is a lifestyle status symbol among people in Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Taiwan because of the darkness and quality that Pu Er brings to the tea market. The intense preparation and fermentation process makes making quality tea a profitable skill. Plus, Pu Er can be steeped so many times, each time taking on a slightly different taste from the one before.
Black Tea 红茶 Hóng Cha
Black tea is a type of tea that is more oxidized than Oolong, Green and White teas. In English, the tea is called “Black Tea” because of the color of the leaves used, but in Chinese and other Asian countries, it’s actually called 红茶, which translates to “Red Tea,” named after the color of the tea itself. As we learned last week, Pu Er is considered a “Black Tea” in China because it is even further fermented compared to “Red Tea.”
Keemun 祁门红茶: Like most black teas, Keemun is named after the area where the leaves are grown: Qimen. Keemun is one of China’s top 10 most famous teas. It comes from the Anhui Province and tends to be slightly fruity and smokey tasting. It’s got a lighter taste and is used in many blends popular in the West, but high quality Keemun needs no mixing.
Zhengshan Xiaozhong (Lapsang Souchong) 正山小种: Zhengshan Xiaozhong is prepared in a much different way than other black teas. It is smoked over a bamboo fire to give it a real dark, smokey essence. This tea is best enjoy without any milk or sugar. Opinions of this tea are typically either strongly positive or strongly negative, depending on your personal tastes.
Dian Hong 滇红: Dian hong black tea comes from Yunnan (Yunnan has lots of types of tea because of the mountains and warmer climate). Dian Hong is usually pretty high end/gourmet Chinese tea because they use fine, “golden tip” leaf buds. Good Dian Hong comes out brassy and orange that tastes sweet, whereas cheaper Diang Hong is usually brownish and bitter.
The 3 Famous Fujian Reds 福建红茶: There are three different delicious black (red) teas from the Fujian province in China that are considered the 3 Famous Fujian Reds: Tanyang Gongfu 坦洋工夫, Zhenghe Gongfu 政和工夫, Bailin Gongfu 白琳工夫. Each tea is named from the area in Fujian they are grown. Tanyang is the “king” of the three and has shiny black leaves that brew golden and fruity. Zhenghe tends to have a honey flavor while Bailin is more caramelly and chocolatey.
Brewing Black Tea
When brewing black tea, the ideal ratio is about one teaspoon of black tea leaves per 6 ounces of water. Other teas break down in quality when brewed at high temperatures, but black tea should be steeped in water the was freshly boiled. The bigger the leaves, the longer they need to be steeped, sometimes up to 5 minutes. The larger leaves will unfold a lot, so make sure to leave enough room for them to do so.
Winter Melon Tea 冬瓜茶
Winter Melon Tea is from Taiwan but became popular in China for it’s perceived ability to help relieve the heat during the summer. It also has no fat and is believed to help with weight loss, earning itself the nickname “the slimming tea.” Technically speaking, Winter Melon Tea doesn’t actually contain any tea, but I’m still counting it for this series. It’s too good to miss out on. Some people call it Winter Melon Punch, but it’s more of a tea than punch.
How It’s Made
The traditional method of making this tea involves cooking winter melon in water and sugar for a long time, making a solid brick of camalized winter melon. It can be sold in these carmalized bricks or melted down in boiling water turning it to a liquid to make the “tea.” It’s typically served iced and is naturally very sweet, making it a great tea choice when it’s warmer out (in all honesty, it tastes kind of strange when served hot). It’s like Chinese sweet tea!
Variations and Uses
While the method for making the base of Winter Melon Tea is the same (unless it’s made from concentrate, then yuck!), different ingredients can be added to change the sweet flavor. Common ingredients are lime, lemon, mint, and Oolong tea. Winter Melon Tea is great all by itself, but if you like the freshness of mint, the tanginess of lemon or the earthiness of Oolong tea, they are great additions. It even comes as a Milk Tea flavor.
You can also get a bottled version at most convenience stores, super markets or drink stalls. Just look for the words 冬瓜茶 or the big green gourd on the label. Although, if you’ve never had homemade Winter Melon Tea from a proper tea shop, it’s time you graduated to the real thing.
Flowering Tea 花茶
Flowering tea is considered by many to be a modern creation, but it really comes from ancient China. For that reason, we are covering it here! It is often considered a performance tea, blooming tea or decorative tea. For this reason, it is often steeped in a glass pot to display the flowering.
How it’s prepared
Flowering tea is packaged individually to be a spectacle when it is steeped in hot water. Part of the experience of drinking flowering tea is watching the leaves unfold and the flower “bloom.” The tea leaved packaged tightly into a ball around a dried flower. The flowers can be wrapped in any tea leaves, but in China it’s typically black (red), green or oolong so that the flower appropriately compliments the taste.
When steeping it, it’s best to steep an entire pot rather than just a cup, as it will be strong. Plus it’s hard to drink tea if there’s a fully bloomed flower in it. When placed in hot water, the dried tea ball will unfurl into a beautiful display. Some more fancy companies are known to have Flowering Tea turn into a sailing ship or other ornate objects. And each flower can usually handle 2 to 3 steepings, so you don’t throw it away after just one use.
Jasmine 茉莉花茶 — The most common tea leave to use with flowering tea is Jasmine. Basic Jasmine tea comes as pearls of jasmine flower leaves, but the flower can be included as well. While the taste is usually pretty subtle, it is the most fragrant Chinese tea.
Rose 玫瑰花茶 — The beautiful symbol of love can also be turned into a mild tea. The tea itself is sweet and a little bit bitter. It is made from either fresh or dried rose petals and sometimes black tea is added.
Magnolia 玉兰花茶 — This flowering tea comes from the Wuzhi Mountains and is a mix of Spring green tea and White Magnolia Flowers. When brewed, it is mellow and rich color and flavor with a sweet aftertaste.
Osmanthus 桂花茶 — Osmanthus tea by itself is naturally caffeine-free, but it is usually mixed with Oolong to make it stronger. It has a slightly sweet and buttery taste to it. The aroma is likened to peach or apricot.
Chrysanthemum 菊花茶- Chrysanthemum tea is quite popular in China and dates back to the Song Dynasty. It can be drunk alone, but typically rock sugar and wolfberries are added to make it sweeter and fruitier. Color of the tea can range from pale to bright yellow.
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