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Tea lovers everywhere respond Pavlovian-style when one word is said: “China.” Small wonder. Some of the finest teas available and some of the priciest come from China. It is also considered by many to be the birthplace of tea drinking.
China, land of inscrutability, of a civilization that goes back thousands of years, of such wonders as the Great Wall (built to keep invaders out), and of such delights to tantalize the tastebuds as Dim Sum. Tea there used to be a special beverage for Emperors and their Courts. Now, you can order some of the finest ones online and even in local stores.
Teas are grown in a number provinces of China, although not all are available outside of Asia. They are usually divided into several classes, all from the Camellia Sinensis plant but processed differently — Green (non-oxidized), Oolong (semi-oxidized), Black (sometimes called “red tea” in Europe and elsewhere, which should not to be confused with “Rooibos” which is often labeled “red tea”), White, Yellow, Flowering/Blooming, and Compressed (cakes, bricks, etc.).
Each is processed differently, giving them unique flavors and properties. Where the teas are grown also affects their taste.
Several provinces have a reputation for fine teas. Here the first four:
Anhui, also called “Anwei”
Located in eastern central China. Terrain where tea is grown ranges from the flatlands of the Yangtze River to the Huang Shan mountains in the south. Produces Keemun, Ching-Wo, Maofeng, Chunmee, and Young Hyson teas.
Fujian, also called “Fukien”
Located on southeast China coast (the Taiwan Straight) with a subtropical climate and mountainous terrain (including the infamous Wu-Yi Mountains) where 336 varieties of tea plants are cultivated. Tea has supposedly been produced here for over 1,600 years. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), was the main area of tea production in China. Produces Oolong, Ti Kuan Yin, Jasmine, White, Wu-Yi Oolong, White Monkey Paw Green Tea, and Lapsang Souchong teas.
Guangdong, also called “Kwangtung”
Located in southeastern China south of Fujian and Hunan. The climate is tropical and sub-tropical, and tea is grown on the Feng Huang Shan (Phoenix Mountain) ranges to get the right conditions for fine teas. Produces Feng Huang Oolong, Lychee Congou, and Rose Congou teas.
Located in central China just north of Hunan. Climate is subtropical but mountainous in the west and peripheral areas. Several Yangtze River tributaries flow through it, and there are thousands of lakes on the Jianghan Plain. Produces North China Congou and Tea Bricks.
Six more provinces to be presented in Part II.
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All the tea in China. If you’ve never wondered how this popular phrase came to be, consider that not only is China the birthplace of tea drinking and culture but to this day remains the number one tea-producing country in the world – albeit with India more or less hot on its heels.
There are a number of regions in China that are critical to the production of tea. Some are synonymous with a certain type of tea, such as Yunnan, which turns out a variety of tippy black tea by the same name and which is also the point of origin for a great deal of the world’s puerh supply. Some other important tea-growing regions include Zhejiang, Sichuan, and Anhui.
Fujian Province is another well-known Chinese tea-growing province. Located on the southeastern coast of China, Fujian is one of China’s 22 provinces and is home to about 44 million people. Its location is worth noting since it lies across the Taiwan Strait from Taiwan – which is formerly known as Formosa and which is another of the world’s important tea-growing areas.
Taiwan is perhaps best known for it’s production of a number of fine oolong varieties and so it should come as no surprise that its neighbors across the way in Fujian also produce several of the same. Other popular types of tea grown there include jasmine, white, Lapsang Souchong (a black tea flavored with pine smoke) and a relatively obscure black variety known as Golden Monkey.
But it’s really the oolong teas of Fujian that are its calling card. Some of the best of these, as noted in The Tea Enthusiast’s Handbook, are the rock or cliff oolongs produced in the mountainous Wu Yi Shan region in the northern part of the province. Among the most noteworthy of these, Da Hong Pao, Bai Ji Guan, Tie Luo Han, and Shui Jin Gui. Among the more notable varieties produced in the southern part of Fujian, in the region surrounding the city of Anxi, the popular Tieguanyin oolong, also known as Iron Goddess of Mercy.