'Chinese tea' - demystified.
China holds the largest tea growing area in the World. Across this vast natural habitat, many different types of tea are made. By categorisation according to their craft, we can group tea into 6 different types - White, Yellow, Green, Oolong, Black and Dark tea. Each group of tea has a distinctive craft process that is unique.
In the UK, we often hear the phrase 'Chinese tea'. While this may well refer to the tea that we consume in the Chinese restaurant or one made in the Greater China region, one needs to bear in mind that it is a rather vague terminology...
So, what kind of tea do people drink in China? The answer is NOT simple as you may think... With this vast area of tea growing regions come different local tea drinking traditions and preferences. In other words, the tea culture in China is a heterogeneous one, with moderate to strong local variations. For example, in Beijing you may find Jasmine tea being sold widely across local markets, but once moving to Shanghai, green teas such as LongJing (Dragon Well Green Tea) and Anji Baicha become the everyday drink of the locals there.
This striking differences in local tea culture is by and large result of geographical distances between cities/towns and the diversity of teas each region produces locally. Going back to the example of Beijing; it is a capital city situated North of the Northern borderline of tea growing limit - i.e. the climate is too cold to grow tea naturally in Beijing. Historically, tea made in the south China region, in particular Jasmine tea from Fujian have been transported to the capital for consumption there since at least 100-150 years ago. Shanghai is neighbour to several renowned green tea producing regions - Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, and their close proximity to Shanghai allow tea merchants to sell high quality, seasonal green teas.
As you see from these two examples, there are types of tea that are made for consumption in local towns and cities of vicinity, and others that are specifically made for transportation to other cities. What's interesting is that even though these localised tea cultures have often been around for hundreds of years, there have been signs of shifting tea drinking trends particularly amongst the younger generations in recent years. Whether or not we see a convergence of tea cultures in China in the future is a question that remains to be seen. Nonetheless, this diversity of local tea cultures facilitates and supports the great variety of different teas that are made in Greater China.
Where are the tea producing areas of China ?
South of the Northern tea growing border, there are 4 regions of tea producing areas in Greater China (illustrated map above).
Each of these regions produce different types of tea depending on the origins' terroir, craft heritage, and culture/market. Here, we briefly look at the types of tea made in each region.
Region A: JiangBei (North of Yangtze River) - mainly green and yellow
Region B: JiangNan (South of Yangtze River) - white, green, oolong, black, dark
Region C: XiNan (South West) - green, yellow, black, dark
Region D: Huanan (South China) - green, white, oolong, black, dark, jasmine etc
Note, redline represents the geographical Northern limit to growing tea due to cold climate.