Famous Chinese Tea

Shi Feng Dragon Well

Throughout the modern history of Chinese tea’s marketing, there is a frequently appearing list known as Zhong Guo Shi Da Ming Cha 中国十大名茶  – “The Ten Famous teas of China. “ In fact, there is not just one list of this type, but a number 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 teas in China today, it important to think of these lists a starting point rather than an exhaustive survey of all Chinese tea.

The Criteria

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 singular shape, flavor, and aroma, easily discerned from other styles. (g. Liu An Gua Pian)
  3. It was awarded recognition in national or international competitions. (g. Tai Pin Hou Kui)
  4. It is developed from usual local variety of tea bush that has gained strong and widespread appeal. (g. Tie Guan Yin, Qimen)

 

The 1959 List

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

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

“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. There is still the temple and emperor’s tea garden there. Our Shi Feng Dragonwell is from the oldest tea master living in Shi Feng, Mr. Weng Shan Yi. This style has been replicated in other regions, notably in Xin Chang as Da Fo Long Jing.

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

The third largest fresh water lake in all of China. Tea produced here is grown on the Dongshan (East Mountain) Penisula and the Xishan (West Mountain) island. Tea from the island is considered superior by nature of its environment, with mist from the lake, and an abundance of fruit trees contributing to its flavor. Our Bi Luo Chun is from the Lu Family living in Xishan. 黄山毛锋

黄山毛峰 Huangshan Maofeng – Huangshan city, Anhui Province.

Huang Shan or Yellow Mountain, is a site of tremendous natural heritage in China and the highest peak on the eastern side of the country. This was the earliest area to make green tea in modern style of frying the leaves and finishing them as loose tea. It has had an enormous influence on Chinese tea culture, exporting its style of tea making all over China. Our Imperial Huangshan Maofeng is made by a 6th generation tea maker, Wang Fang Shen, who also invented the flowering tea ball in 1986. His Huangshan Maofeng and display teas are frequently used as gifts from the Chinese diplomatic corps to leaders of other countries.

庐山云雾茶 Lu Shan Yun Wu – Jiujiang City, Jiangxi Province.

The most famous of the many teas named “Yun Wu” or “Cloud 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 “Cloud and Mist“ in the name this tea speaks true to the constant cloud cover in this environment. Good quality is always known to grown under the cover of clouds or shade.

六安瓜片 Liu An Gua Pian – Jin Zhai County, Anhui Province

Gua Pian, commonly mis-translated as “Melon Seed”, but is more properly translated as “Sunfolwer Seed.” The only green tea to use a one-leaf standard, that is no bud and no stems included. Liu An Gua Pian is also the only tea to be dried to completion over an open flame. You can read more about the special processing of this tea at this blog entry.

信阳毛尖 Xin Yang Mao Jian – Xinyang City, Henan Province is the area furthest north for tea cultivation. Since the climate is colder, the harvest is later than other green teas, and the leaves 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, but Xin Yang Mao Jian is the most famous.

 君山银针 Junshan Yin Zhen – Yue Yang City, Hunan Province.

Junshan is an island in the second largest freshwater lake in China. The tea from this island was a tribute tea in the Qing Dynasty. Modern Jun Shan Yin Silver needle is picked in a window of just seven days to ten days at the end of March and beginning April. This is when the tea buds are close to three centimeters long, mature in their flavor, and have not opened into leaves. As a yellow tea, Jun Shan Yin Zhen is time consuming and complicated to produce. For more information the meticulous production of this tea, refer to Jun Shan Yin Zhen’s dedicated page.

武夷岩茶 Wuyi Yan Cha – Wuyishan City, Fujian Province

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 traditionally made as naturally oxidized and open leaf that is dried over charcoal coals. The modern way of producing wulong tea now uses ovens. There are many varieties of Yan Cha developed from the diverse range of tea bushes in Wuyishan. More information about these varieties and Wu Yi Rock Wulong in general can be found here.

 铁观音 Tie Guan Yin – Anxi County, Fujian Province

Wulong tea from Anxi exploded in popularity in the 1990s when it adopted the newer style of tea processing. In this newer style of making wulong tea, leaves are only lightly oxidized and tightly rolled into a 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.

 祁门红茶 Qimen Hong Cha – Qimen County An Hui Province

In a country where relatively few people consume black tea, Qimen is still highly regarded for its unusual floral character. Qimen gained a boost in popularity in the reform period when Deng Xiaoping suggested, “let Qimen be known to the world.”

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 not. For instance, Yunnan Puer tea only appeared on the list in 1999, whereas the tea was not widely appreciated before then. Note that Fujian white tea, like Silver Needle, never makes the list despite its surge in popularity at the beginning of this century and the heavy promotion of its cultivar by government agricultural work units.

1915

Published for the Panama World Expo:

Xihu Longjing
Biluochun
Xinyang Maojian
Duyun Maojian
Liu An Gua Pian
Junshan Yin Zhen
Tie Guan Yin
Huangshan Mao Feng
Wuyi Yancha
Qimen

1999

Published in newsprint by a Chinese tea trade group:

Jiangsu Bi Luo Chun
Xihu Longjing
Huangshan Mao Feng
Liuan Gua Pian
Jiangxi Yun Wu Cha
[Hubei] Eng shi Yu Lu (related to the Japanese made “Guokuro”)
Fujian Tie Guan Yin
Fujian Yin Zhen (Bai Hao Yin Zhen)
Yunnan Puer Tea
Fujian Yan Cha

2001

Published by a Chinese governmental tea organization

Xihu Longjing
Huangshan Maofeng
Dongting Bi Luo Chun
Liu An Gua Pian
Meng Ding Gan Lu
Lu Shan Yun Wu Cha
Xiyang Maojian
Duyu Maojian
Anxi Tie Guan Yin
Suzhou Moli Hua

2002

Pubished by a Hong Kong Newspaper

Xi Hu Long Jing
Jiangsu Bi Luo Chun
Huangshan Mao Feng
Liu An Gua Pian
Fujian Baihao Yinzhen
Qimen Hong cha
Du Yu Maojian
Xinyang Maojian
Wuyi Yan Cha
Fujian Tie Guan Yin