All the Tea in China

Clients can find a variety of flavors and benefits on their next visit

By: Riana Lagarde

With over 8,000 varieties of tea in China, clients can find it baffling choosing one to drink while dining and shopping during a stay in the People’s Republic.

Tea is the beloved national beverage and a way to immortality a drink for the mind, body and soul, according to poet and scholar Lu Yu from the Tang Dynasty. Each tea has its special qualities and attributes: green tea calms the inner fire; Beijingers drink jasmine-infused Longjing, which aids digestion; Oolong, a favorite of the Cantonese, is even stronger; and the elusive white teas sustain Buddhists during their fasts and path to enlightenment.

Here’s a guide for your China-bound clients looking to learn more about tea time.

A Longing for Longjing
The founder of Taoism describes Longjing tea as “the froth of the liquid jade.”

Smooth emerald leaves resembling pine needles brewed into a bright green elixir are one of the most sought after teas in China and the world over for its medicinal properties. Used to deter food poisoning, stop cavities, prolong life and prevent cancer, it’s no wonder that a 9th-century emperor wrote sonnets of love for this particular green tea.

Longjing, known as “Dragon Well,” is grown in the lush mountains of Hangzhou in the southeast Zhejiang province of China. True Longjing is only harvested between April 5-21, plucked by young girls with long fingernails hardly bruising the delicate leaves and buds.

The leaves are then briefly steamed to prevent fermentation and pan-roasted in a large wok until they are crisp. This refreshing, palate-cleansing, after-dinner tea has a bold crisp aftertaste of grapefruit, and if you buy the Emperor’s tea, it will set you back a small fortune.

Compressed for Tea Time
Packed into easy-to-carry bricks, Pu-erh tea, the favorite diet tea of the Tibetan people, promotes digestion and eliminates grease from the body. People of the Song Dynasty, 1,000 years ago, touted this delightfully flavored tea to the meat- eating Tibetans, leading to the Ancient Tea-Horse Road where solid bricks of tea were bartered for Tibetan horses.

But Pu-erh is not just for nomads anymore. With its distinctive earthy-mellow flavor, the tea has come into fashion among the working class in major cities.

Bold and Beautiful
Lapsang the rich, dark, dominating queen of black tea was created accidentally. A pine fire smoked the first batch of Lapsang Souchong, creating a Qing-dynasty taste sensation of smooth, woody, char-grilled smoked tea. This heady tea grows in the thick forests of the Wuyi Mountains in Fujian and is pan-fried, then smoke-infused in bamboo baskets over crackling pine-wood fires.

Like a fine cigar, this tea was known as a man’s tea, but more and more women are picking up this smoking beauty and calling it their own.

You Say Oolong, I Say Wulong
Besides mediators solving feuds, old men with bird cages playing chess and industry captains doing business, some teahouses have theatrical performances, such as storytelling, Sichuan opera and Kung fu. Not fighting, Kung fu is a tea ceremony typically using Wulong tea, 27 utensils and considerable effort.

Wulong also known as Oolong tea is half fermented, thus not as grassy tasting as green tea and a bit sweeter than bitter black teas. Meaning “Black Dragon” in Chinese, Wulong has a curly black leaf, is commonly served in Chinese restaurants and reputed for being slimming like its green tea cousin.

‘White Hairy Monkey’
Thankfully, “White Hairy Monkey” tea is also known as White Peony because of its gentle floral aroma. White teas are grown by Buddhist monks in the central high mountainous Fukanese part of China and are the second most expensive. Only the top two leaves and bud are picked in early April and never when it rains nor if there is frost on the ground.

This lightweight golden tea keeps the mind alert and calms the soul and sometimes inspires 17 hours of meditation a day in monasteries.

Commonly known as Yinzhen, these unfermented white teas delicately linger in your mouth and can lead to enlightenment, as well as good health.


Bai Cao Yuan Teahouse
22a Gaoliangqiaoxie St.
Haidian District, Beijing

In Pursuit of Tea

Tea Museum of Hangzhou
Admission is free.

Wenshu Monastery Tea House
Chengdu, Sichuan Province

For more information on tea ceremonies, browse the tea reference Cha Ching (Classic of Tea) written by Lu Yu.