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Fine & Specialty Chinese Teas & Accessories

Categories Of Chinese Teas By Fermentation Type

Chinese teas are categorized by one of 4 methods of processing:

Non-fermented

Non-fermented Chinese teas are known as green tea, white tea and yellow tea which is very rare. The leaves are simply picked, then dried and then packaged. The leaves may be steamed, flattened, twisted or rolled into little balls to accentuate the tea's fragrance or taste. This process permits little oxidization of the leaves and retains the fresh taste of the leaves. Contrary to popular belief, Chinese green teas may contain more caffeine that Chinese black teas but both are less than the black teas consumed in the West that originate from India, and all teas are significantly less than coffee (see Health for a fuller discussion on caffeine).

Popular types:

Fermented

Fermented teas are known as black teas (known as Red Teas in China). The flavour is developed by keeping the leaves warm and moist for a few hours which turns them black as the chemicals in the leaves break them down by reacting with the air. The leaves are then dried by a variety of methods which affects the taste and then graded and pacakaged.

Popular types:

Semi-fermented

These are the Oolong teas that are sometimes called semi-green or blue-green tea. The process is the same as the fermented type above with the time of oxidization adjusted to make the tea taste more green or black and bring out certain taste characteristics.

Popular types:

Post-fermented (Aged)

This is the famous Pu-Erh tea (Bow Lay in Cantonese) from Yunnan province. After processing it may be compressed and stored in cool dry cellars, sometimes for many years before it is made available for purchase. This aging has a further mellowing effect and adds complexity to the flavour.

Popular types:

In addition to the 4 basic categories above, there are 2 additional ones:

Smoked Teas

As the name suggests, a distinctive flavour is imparted to the leaves by exposing them to the smoke from different types of burning wood. Smoked teas can range from lightly to heavily smoked. Examples are Monkey Pick Tea, one of the three varieties of Da Hong Pao and Lapsang Souchong.  

Popular types:

Scented or Flavoured Teas

These come in 2 types: natural and artificial and there are high and low grades of each type. High grade Dragon Pearl Jasmine tea uses jasmine flowers which are overlaid on top of the tea leaves during processing, imparting a delicate flowery flavour. Lower grades use an artificial flavouring. Tea flavoured with lychee fruit is also very popular and there are some high grade teas of this type available. Beware of scented teas which use low grade leaves and artificial flavours.

To see how tea is made, see How Tea Is Made 

Chart - Popular Chinese Teas by Fermentation Type

GREEN TEAS 
(non-fermented)
Loong Jien (also called Dragon Well) Very fresh green taste with slightly grassy and nutty overtones
  Pi Lo Chun Smooth, mellow and rich green leaf taste
  Dragon Pearl Jasmine Rich perfume fragrance and flowery taste
WHITE TEAS 
(slightly -fermented)
Silver Needle Very delicate, smooth and sweet flavor with fruity tones
  White Peony Smooth, creamy and buttery green taste, slightly flowery
BLACK TEAS 
(fully fermented, known as Red Tea in China)
Golden Tips Red Unique fruity taste with a touch of peach
  Lapsang Souchong Dark, rich and smoky
OOLONG TEAS  
(slightly fermented)
Tie Guan Yin (also called Gun Yam, Iron Buddha, Buddha of Mercy, Chinese Oolong) Spring Pick: Flowery fragrance and sweet taste

Fall Pick: Light fragrance and deep, complex flowery taste

  Taiwan Oolong (also called High Mountain Oolong) A wonderful 'everyday' tea - Fresh, slightly fruity and flowery aroma  and taste
  Da Hong Pao (also called Big Red Robe,  
Cliff Tea)
3 types: Slightly Fermented, Slightly Roasted, Full Roasted

Slightly Fermented has a rich and complex green taste

Slightly Roasted has a light and complex smoky taste

Full Roasted has a rich smoky taste

  Phoenix Tea 2 types; Honey and Flower Teas. Full and rich tastes and aromas
  Monkey Pick Tea (also called Smoked Tie Guan Yin) Roasted, full smoky taste
AGED TEAS  
(post- fermented)
Pu-Erh Green (also called Bow Lay, Raw, Un-cooked, Green Health Tea

Pu-Erh Black (also called Bow Lay, Cooked Tea)

Comes in green and black varieties, either loose leaves or compressed. Has rich, smooth and earthy tastes with complex overtones ranging from plums to dates to chocolate. Pu-Erh is stored for many years and even decades in cool, dry cellars which has a further mellowing effect and adds smoothness and complexity. Sold like vintage wine and some ”vintages” are very rare and expensive.

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