The Top Ten Famous Chinese Teas


Shi Feng Dragon Well is just one of the Famous Chinese Teas.
One of the Famous Chinese Teas is Shi Feng Dragon Well.

The Famous Zhong Guo Shi Da Ming Cha List

Throughout the modern history of marketing Chinese tea, there frequently appears a list known as Zhong Guo Shi Da Ming Cha (中国十大名茶), or, “The Ten Famous Teas of China”. In fact, there is not just one list, but many of them, appearing in various forms throughout the last hundred years. Government agricultural bureaus, business associations, and magazines have all published their own versions, with each list representing the standards and preferences of their time. To complicate things further, there are twenty-one provinces producing tea in China, and each one of these provinces is apt to promote their own list of locally famous teas. All together, there are easily more than a thousand named teas in China that are produced to high standards of quality. In light of the staggering number of highly regarded Chinese teas today, it’s important to think of these lists a starting point rather than an exhaustive survey of all Chinese tea.

The Criteria for Famous Chinese Teas

For a tea to appear on one of these lists, it usually has one or more of the following attributes:

  1. It was once designated for tribute to the imperial court. (e.g. Dragon Well)
  2. It has a singular shape, flavor, and aroma, easily discerned from other styles. (e.g. Liu An Gua Pian)
  3. It was awarded recognition in national or international competitions. (e.g. Tai Pin Hou Kui)
  4. It was developed from a particular local variety of tea bush that has acquired strong and widespread appeal. (e.g. Tie Guan Yin, Qimen)

The 1959 List

The following teas are from the frequently referenced list of famous Chinese teas that were developed in 1959 by the Chinese government. Note that some teas which are now very popular, like Puer tea, are conspicuously absent from the list.

Xi Hu Long Jing 西湖龙井 (West Lake Dragon Well) – Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province

Distinctly yellow-green dry flattened leaves of Shi Feng Long Jing green Dragonwell tea
The flattened ‘bookmark’ shaped leaves of Shi Feng Long Jing.

“West Lake” refers to all of the tea production in the villages surrounding the large lake in Hangzhou, including Mei Jia Wu and the most prestigious, Shi Feng, at the top of its mountain. This was a well-known tribute tea for centuries. A temple and emperor’s tea garden still exists there. Our Shi Feng Dragon Well comes from the Weng family, which has been making tea by hand for generations. This style has been replicated in other regions, notably in Xin Chang as Da Fo Long Jing.

Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun 洞庭碧螺春 – Tai Lake, Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province

Very small and curled dry leaves of Bi Luo Chun green tea.
The fuzzy, curled leaves of Bi Luo Chun.

Tai Lake is the third largest freshwater lake in all of China. Tea produced here is grown on the Dongshan (East Mountain) Peninsula and the Xishan (West Mountain) island. Tea from the island is considered superior by virtue of its environment: mist from the lake shelters the tea bushes, while an abundance of fruit trees growing alongside them contribute to its flavor. Our Bi Luo Chun comes from the Lu Family living in Xishan.

Huangshan Maofeng 黄山毛峰 (Yellow Mountain) – Huangshan city, Anhui Province

The long, curving leaves of dry Huang Shan Mao Feng green tea.
The long, curving leaves of Huang Shan Mao Feng.

Huang Shan (Yellow Mountain) is a site of tremendous natural heritage in China and home to the highest peak on the eastern side of the country. Tea makers in this area were the first to make green tea in the modern style of frying the leaves and finishing them as loose leaf tea. Huang Shan has had an enormous influence on Chinese tea culture, exporting its style of tea making all over China. Our Huang Shan Mao Feng is made by a 6th generation tea maker, Wang Fang Shen, who also invented the flowering display tea ball in 1986. His Huang Shan Mao Feng and display teas are frequently given as gifts from the Chinese diplomatic corps to leaders of other countries.

Lu Shan Yun Wu 庐山云雾茶 (Clouds and Mist) – Jiujiang City, Jiangxi Province

Yun Wu Green Tea dry leaves
The short, dark leaves of Yun Wu.

This is the most famous of the many teas named Yun Wu (Clouds and Mist). Today, the beauty of Lu Shan’s environment has eclipsed the popularity of its tea. The great poet Li Bai even wrote a poem about a waterfall here. The descriptive name “clouds and mist” refers to the constant cloud cover in this environment, which provides excellent shade and moisture for the tea plants. These growing conditions are known to produce good quality tea. Our Yun Wu is made from the popular Jiu Keng cultivar of tea bush.

Liu An Gua Pian 六安瓜片 (Sunflower Seed) – Jin Zhai County, Anhui Province

Dry leaves of Lu An Gua Pian green tea rolled into its distinctive cylinder shape.
The unusual dark and rolled leaves of Lu An Gua Pian.

Gua Pian is commonly mis-translated as “Melon Seed”, but is more properly translated as “Sunflower Seed.” This unique tea is the only green tea to use a one-leaf plucking standard that includes neither bud nor stem. Liu An Gua Pian is also the only tea to be dried to completion by the unusual method of firing over an open flame. You can read about the special processing of this tea in more detail on our tea blog.

Xin Yang Mao Jian 信阳毛尖 Xin Yang Mao Jian – Xinyang City, Henan Province

Dry leaves of Mao Jian organic green tea
The dark, narrow, pointed leaves of Mao Jian.

Henan Province is in the farthest north region where tea can be cultivated. Since the climate is colder, the harvest occurs later than other green teas, and the leaves are comparatively small and tight. Mao Jian refers to the plucking standard of this tea: one bud, that is both hairy (mao), straight, and pointy (jian). Many teas are produced in the Mao Jian style, like our Yun Wu Mao Jian, but Xin Yang Mao Jian is the most famous.

Jun Shan Yin Zhen 君山银针 (Jun Island Silver Needle) – Yue Yang City, Hunan Province

The pale, long, straight needle-shaped leaves of Jun Shan Yin Zhen yellow tea.
The needle-shaped buds of Jun Shan Yin Zhen.

Jun Shan is a mountain island in the second largest freshwater lake in China. Tea from this island was a tribute tea in the Qing Dynasty. Modern Jun Shan Yin Zhen is harvested during a very narrow window time, just seven to ten days at the end of March and beginning of April. At this particular time, the tea buds have grown close to three centimeters long and have not opened into leaves, though they are mature in flavor. As a yellow tea, Jun Shan Yin Zhen is both time consuming and complicated to produce. Our Jun Shan Yin Zhen is made from 85% tea buds and 15% 1 bud to 1 leaf. For more about the meticulous production of this tea, refer to Jun Shan Yin Zhen’s dedicated page.

Wuyi Yan Cha 武夷岩茶 (Wuyi Rock Tea) – Wuyishan City, Fujian Province

Dark twisted leaves of Little Red Robe rock wulong tea.
The traditional long, dark, twisted form of rock wulong tea.

The skills of making wulong tea were first developed in Wuyishan (also written as Wuyi Mountain). The area’s yan cha (or “rock wulong”) is still the most conservative style wulong tea produced today. This tea is still made by the traditional method using open leaves that are naturally oxidized and dried over charcoal. The modern way of producing wulong tea now uses ovens. There are many varieties of yan cha developed from the diverse variety of tea bushes in Wuyishan. More information about these varieties and Wu Yi rock wulong in general can be found here.

Tie Guan Yin 铁观音 – Anxi County, Fujian Province

Dry leaves of Golden Tie Guan Yin tightly rolled into crumpled balls.
The distinctive ‘pearl’ shape of Anxi Tie Guan Yin wulong.

Wulong tea from Anxi exploded in popularity in the 1990s when it adopted a newer style of tea processing. In this newer style of making wulong tea, leaves are only lightly oxidized and then tightly rolled into a compact pearl shape. Many cultivars have been developed to suit this modern style of wulong making, but the most lauded continues to be the original Tie Guan Yin cultivar. The tart flavor of this original bush is best on display in our Golden Tie Guan Yin.

Qimen Hong Cha 祁门红茶 (Keemun Black Tea) – Qimen County, Anhui Province

Thin, twisted leaves of Qimen Caixia black tea.
The thin, twisted leaves of Qimen Caixia.

Though relatively few people in China consume black tea, Qimen (Keemun) is still highly regarded for its unusual floral character. Qimen gained a boost in popularity during the reform period when Deng Xiaoping suggested, “let Qimen be known to the world.” We carry Caixia Qimen (Sunrise Keemun), which is harvested at the unusually early 1 bud to 1 tender leaf plucking standard. Using leaves this young means this is a surprisingly difficult black tea to make.


A List of Other Lists

For comparison’s sake, the following are other lists of famous Chinese tea that have appeared over the last century. It’s interesting to see the shifts in what is selected and what is passed over. For instance, Yunnan Puer tea only first appeared on the list in 1999, whereas the tea was not widely appreciated before then.

1915

Published for the Panama World Expo:

  1. Xi Hu Long Jing
  2. Bi Luo Chun
  3. Xin Yang Mao Jian
  4. Du Yun Mao Jian
  5. Liu An Gua Pian
  6. Jun Shan Yin Zhen
  7. Tie Guan Yin
  8. Huang Shan Mao Feng
  9. Wuyi Yan Cha
  10. Qimen Hong Cha

1999

Published in newsprint by a Chinese tea trade group:

  1. Jiangsu Bi Luo Chun
  2. Xi Hu Long Jing
  3. Huang Shan Mao Feng
  4. Liu An Gua Pian
  5. Jiangxi Yun Wu Cha
  6. [Hubei] Eng Shi Yu Lu (related to the Japanese made “Gyokuro”)
  7. Fujian Tie Guan Yin
  8. Fujian Yin Zhen (Bai Hao Yin Zhen)
  9. Yunnan Puer Tea
  10. Fujian Yan Cha

2001

Published by a Chinese governmental tea organization:

  1. Xi Hu Long Jing
  2. Huang Shan Mao Feng
  3. Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun
  4. Liu An Gua Pian
  5. Meng Ding Gan Lu
  6. Lu Shan Yun Wu Cha
  7. Xin Yang Mao Jian
  8. Du Yu Mao Jian
  9. Anxi Tie Guan Yin
  10. Suzhou Mo Li Hua

2002

Published by a Hong Kong Newspaper:

  1. Xi Hu Long Jing
  2. Jiangsu Bi Luo Chun
  3. Huang Shan Mao Feng
  4. Liu An Gua Pian
  5. Fujian Bai Hao Yin Zhen
  6. Qimen Hong Cha
  7. Du Yu Mao Jian
  8. Xin Yang Mao Jian
  9. Wuyi Yan Cha
  10. Fujian Tie Guan Yin