A Breakdown of The Varieties of Chinese Tea
Tea is a way of life in China. Restaurants offer it instead of water and nearly every family will pour a cup for guests that enter their home. It’s sold in huge quantities at the grocery stores and every city seems to have hundreds of specialty shops selling different varieties. Tea isn’t just a favourite drink for the people of China, but is also linked to good health, a cure for ailments and part of a well rounded lifestyle. If you are visiting China and want to be in the know when it comes time to sit down at the tea table, here is a breakdown of the different kinds of Chinese teas.
Red tea is one of the most popular in the country and falls under the category of a black tea. The process which makes this tea red and achieves its lightly fragrant scent can be slightly involved. New tea leave shoots are used and they must be first wilted, then rolled, and go through a fermentation process before finally being dried out. More oxidized than other teas, red tea has a strong flavour and actually retains this flavour well over a year if stored properly.
Nearly just as popular as the red, the green tea is probably most synonymous with China. The leaves of this tea are dark or light green and when brewed, turn the water a light green colour. The raw tea leaves undergo no fermentation and are simply rolled and dried which allow them to keep their natural antioxidants intact. Over the years, as research has shown the health benefits of antioxidants, green tea has become increasingly popular in both China and internationally. In fact, a large part of China’s economy comes from exporting these teas, so much so that they have about 80 percent of the market globally.
The best of both worlds, this specialty tea that originated in southern China is a mix between the green and black varieties. Because it is only partially fermented, Oolong is lightly coloured and fragrant like Green tea, but is also refreshing and strong like Black tea. It is also characterized by the aftertaste that it leaves lingering in the mouth after taking a sip. Because of the partial fermentation, Oolong holds a potency that is said to help break down fats and proteins, helping the drinker to lose weight.
More of a collaboration, the scented tea (or flower tea) is typically a mix of green tea or Oolong tea with flower blossoms or petals. The base tea gives most of the flavour while the infused flowers offer a fragrance that delivers the full package. Types of flowers that are typically used include osmanthus, jasmine, rose, lotus and chrysanthemum. The most popular out of these is typically Jasmine which is used largely in northern China and produces a bright coloured yellow liquid with a strong scent.
This special tea tends to come from southern China in the Fujian province. The name comes from the white colour of the dried tea, which is achieved by keeping the silvery hairs found on the tea leaves. There is minimal processing when producing this variety and the uncured buds, taken from younger leaves are usually kept very close to their natural state. Because the tea is only lightly oxidized and uses young leaves, it tends to contain a lot of antioxidants and also a high caffeine content.
Post Fermented Tea
After being fried and then rolled, these tea leaves undergo the longest fermentation process out of all the teas. Post fermented teas are such a specialty that only the most experienced tea master can actually perform the process correctly and many parts of the process are said to be kept a secret. Once finished, the tea is typically dark brown in colour and if left to sit, it actually improves its flavour with age. It is typically compressed into large blocks and shipped around China, especially to the ethnic communities of Mongolia, Tibet and Uyghur. The most famous of these teas is the Pu’er Tea which comes from Yunnan Province and is said to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, prevent cancer and aid the immune system.
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