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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 Tea Samples

China Tea Samples

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.

Hubei
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.

© 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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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.

Lapsang Souchong

Lapsang Souchong

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.

Oolong Tea

Oolong Tea

Quickly becoming a stand-out among teas, Oolong is a true tea phenomenon. When many people think of tea, they think of a black tea blend, the kind that comes in most bagged teas available commercially. As they hear more of the health benefits of tea, they learn about green tea and try some of that. But Oolong is a tea that is in-between these two.

Oolong tea is a semi-oxidized tea, meaning that the tea leaves are allowed to ferment (or oxidize) for a short period before the leaves are pan heated to halt the process. From this point, the tea is processed in different ways to create a wide variety of tastes.

The three main classes of Oolongs are:

  • Formosa Oolong from Taiwan— smooth, medium-bodied, subtly tasting of ripe fruit; the liquid is golden amber.
  • Wu-yi Oolong from China — lighter in color than Formosa Oolong, with a tinge of green in the amber “liquor” and a floral flavor.
  • Tie Guan Yin from China — not as dark as Formosa Oolong, with a floral flavor. (I got to try a splendid one recently.)

Oolongs of Fujian Province in China
These teas are traditionally oxidized more and baked longer at higher temperatures than Taiwan oolongs. They produce a rich, full-bodied tea “liquor” with little astringency. Each has its own flavor, with the best of them often described as rich, mellow, and having a floral aroma, particularly orchids, and a fruity aftertaste akin to ripe peaches.

Some mainland oolongs:

  • Rougui (Chinese Cassia)
  • Shuixian (Water Sprite)
  • Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) probably the rarest (made with leaves from just one ancient tea tree, very little is produced each year)
  • Xiao Hong Pao (Small Red Robe)

Tie Guan Yin Oolongs of China
Originating in the Anxi County in Fujian, these teas produce a mellow, smooth flavor and golden liquid. If you are trying to break away from drinking coffee, these teas are a wonderful transition for you. The well-known flavor characteristics are a result of the leaves being rolled into a ball shape during processing, after which they are baked at medium-high temperatures.

Fenghuang Dancong (Phoenix Select) Oolongs of China
From the Guangdong Province, this tea is made of leaves harvested from single trunk trees grown on Phoenix Mountain, where workers have to use ladders or climb the trees to reach the leaves. The leaves are twisted and brownish in color. They stand up to several infusions, producing an aromatic, amber tea “liquor.” Flavors range from almost woody to slightly bitter or astringent on the first infusion.

Signature Oolongs of Taiwan
There are over 100 different varietals of the tea bush (Camellia Sinensis) cultivated around the island and used to produce popular oolong-style teas such as:

  • Jinhsuen — a wide type of leaf used in High Mountain tea
  • Szjichuan — used for many Jade Oolongs
  • Wenshan Baozhong — with a light infusion, floral aroma, and gentle aftertaste
  • Tie Guan Yin — sometimes scented with osmanthus flowers; rich and flavorful with an aftertaste that sweetly lingers
  • Oriental Beauty (unique to Taiwan) — a medium-bodied tea “liquor,” floral aroma, a rich aftertaste of honey and peaches, with the best grades not being baked
  • Tung ting (Frozen Peak) — medium-bodied, smooth, a lingering aftertaste that’s mildly sweet

This will give you a place to start exploring the wonders of Oolong teas. Whether you want to switch from coffee to tea drinking, are seeking the health benefits of these wonderful teas, or just want a new tea experience, you can’t go wrong with any of the ones listed here. So…

…pick an Oolong…any Oolong…and you will be in for a taste treat that will make your mouth very happy. Enjoy!

Learn more about tea on A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

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© Online Stores, LLC, and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, LLC., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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