Teas of the World: Chinese Rare and Lesser Known Teas

Rare teas are generally ones that are fairly unknown and available in small quantities, but along with this the term is meant to indicate high quality. A number of these teas come from China, which is no surprise since they remain the top country for tea growing but had also at one time a few decades ago chopped down a lot of the older tea trees to plant better cash crops. That means a lot of these older trees are now rather few and far between and being sought out by intrepid tea hunters like Phil Mumby and Rajiv Lochan.

Keemun Panda (ETS image)
Keemun Panda (ETS image)

Some rare Chinese teas:

  • Shoumei White — Chinese white tea is rare in China since these teas are exported to other countries where they are considered gourmet and healthy. This one is primarily from the Fujian Province in China and quite rare, has a price starting at $5 per ounce, and is also considered by many experts to be the finest tea on earth.
  • Green Tea from Anhui Province — A rare, competition-grade tea grown high in the mountains in Anhui Province. The gardens are surrounded by wild orchids and their scent is imparted to the leaves at night.
  • Monkey Picked Tea — Possibly a marketing gimmick or tall tale, but this tea is said to have actually been made from leaves picked by monkey off of tea trees (in many parts of China and elsewhere the Camellia Sinensis plant is let grow tall like a tree instead of being kept trim to more of a shrub height).
  • Monkey Ditch, Tai Ping Hou Kwei, and Monkey Hill — Three grades of a rare and beautiful tea made from a large, flat leaf almost two inches long. They are grown in China’s Yellow Mountain area in Anhui Province. After harvest, they are wrapped in gauze, giving the leaves a beautiful pattern. Tai Ping Hou Kwei is the middle quality level, has a red coloration to the leaves, and is enjoyed with meals like a fine wine but with a slightly grassy character. Monkey Ditch has a red vein in the leaf and steeps up a liquid that has an exceedingly fresh, sweet hay aroma and a grassy, green taste.
  • Wild Ti Kwan Yin — A more rare version of a tea that is becoming ever popular with tea devotees. This version grows wild (and is not commercially cultivated) on rocky, mist-shrouded hillsides at elevations of 4,500+ feet in a subtropical environment around the Xi Ping village in the Fujian Province. The tea is only picked once a year in Spring versus twice a year (Spring and Fall) for most other teas. The aroma of the leaves combines green-ness, floral, fruity, and honey, and steeps up a liquid with fabulous body, flavor, and finish. A 1-minute steep in boiled water will fully unfurl the leaves and produce a superb infusion.
  • Curled Dragon Silver Tip — A rare white tea with thick, downy leaves of green and white that steep up a complex, mildly sweet, and floral infusion that is quite smooth with no astringency.
  • Pi Lo Chun (Bi Luo Chun, Tiny Snail) — This tea has down leaves curled to resemble tiny snails and steep up an infusion with a peachy fragrance. Small wonder since the leaves are harvested from plants growing in the Tung Ting mountains with peach and apricot trees nearby. The nectar-like liquid is fruity sweet.
  • Tie Luo Han Oolong (Iron Warrior Monk, Wu Yi Tie Luo Han) — One of the Famous Five Wuyi Rock Teas and also believed to date from the Song Dynasty, making it the earliest Wuyi tea. The name means “Iron Warrior Monk” due to the legend that this tea was created by a powerful warrior monk with golden-bronze skin. He had found a tea bush in a cave (Gui Dong or Ghost Cave) in Hui Yuan Yan, one of the ninety-nine cliffs of Mount Wu Yi. The flavor is rich, full-bodied, and rather strong, steeped up from dark, slightly curled leaves.
  • Top Grade Qi Men Hung (Qi Men Red or Keemun Black) — Classified as a red tea in Asia but as a black tea by Westerners. This type of tea is generally not very popular in China, but us Westerners drink black (red) tea most by a wide margin over green and other teas. There are several grades such as Gongfu, Mao Feng, Hao Ya, Ji Hong, so look for the top grade (usually labeled “1st grade”). While lower grades can be bitter, this grade is fruity-plummy and hints of pine. First produced in 1875, it became a key part of English Breakfast blends.

Go exploring and you may find others to try!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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