According to the Chinese calendar, The Year of the Monkey will be ushered in on the 8th February 2016. As a Taiwanese born monkey, a gold monkey in-fact, I think there is some truth in the character profile: smart, quick-witted, and confident, but also irritable and stubborn. Particularly those last two. The gold monkey’s cheekier self may unleash herself from time to time. Sorry friends and family!
In honour of the Chinese New Year we wanted to pay respects to the long-standing and rich Chinese tea culture by highlighting some of the most famous Chinese teas.
Initially we wanted to compile a list of the “Top 10 teas of China” but it becomes apparent that many tea specialists in China have published Top 10 and Top 15 Famous Tea lists (some dedicated to all teas, some to green and some to black). The difficulty is that not all lists feature the same teas. Instead we celebrate 10 Famous Teas that represents a consensus of the more popular lists out there.
Many of the teas presented below are regarded as tribute teas (“Gong Cha”). This refers to the historical custom of providing the finest selection of a farmers tea yield to the Emperor as a tribute. Records suggest that the practice dates back as early as 1000B.C. Initially the practice was voluntary but became compulsory as a new centralised system was introduced during the Tang Dynasty around 700A.D.
The impact of the tribute tea system was constant innovation by the tea growers and producers as they attempted to meet the changing palate of the tea tasters of the Imperial Court. Lucky for us, this system has contributed to the exceptional range and diversity of teas that are available from China today.
1. Long Jing "Dragonwell", Hangzhou, Zheijiang, Green Tea
The most famous Chinese tea. It has over a thousand years of history and was mentioned in the very first book dedicated to tea “The Classic of Tea” written by Lu Yu. Lu Yu is considered the Sage of Tea (a profoundly wise person) for his contribution to Chinese tea culture. This tea is often referenced as being served to visiting Heads of State when in China.
2. Bi Luo Chun "Green Snail Spring", Suzhou, Jiangsu, Green Tea
This age-old tea is second in fame to Long Jing. The tea was created in the Temple of Ling Yuan Bi Luo Peak and originally named Xia Si Ren Xiang ("astounding fragrance"). It was Emperor Qing that gave its name Bi Luo Chun and elevated it to Imperial status.
3. Huang Shan Mao Feng "Yellow Mountain Fur Peak", Huang Shan, Anhui, Green Tea
This tea is carefully picked and processed to deliver a sweet tea with no bitterness. The processing method that stops the oxidation causes the young shoots to turn yellow and is sometimes (incorrectly) marketed as a yellow tea. Due to its sophisticated characteristics, it was offered as tribute tea to the Imperial court during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
4. Jun Shan Yín Zhēn "Mount Shan Silver Needle", Yueyang, Hunan, Yellow Tea
Takes its name from the island of the same name that is renowned for its natural beauty. The production is very limited and this tea fetches high prices as it takes at least five kilograms of fresh leaves to produce one kilogram of tea.
5. Qimen* "Keemun", Qimen, An Hui, Black Tea
Relatively speaking Qimen has a young history being first produced in 1875 by Yu Ganchen. Whilst popular in China, Qimen surpassed the makers wildest expectations when in gained popularity in England becoming the base ingredient, at the time, for a blended tea more commonly known as English Breakfast.
6. Da Hong Pao "Big Red Robe", Wuxi Mountains, Fujian, Oolong Tea
The most famous of the oolongs produced in the mountainous area of Wuyi Shan. Today, this classic tea is produced from clones of 4 surviving parent plants dating back to the Ming dynasty. Only a few kilos are harvested and processed each year from the parent trees and each kilogram will be sold for tens of thousands of dollars.
7. Liu An Gua Pian "Melon Slice", Liu An, An Hui, Green Tea
Lu Yu described Liu An Gua Pian as a superior quality tea and it was offered as a tribute tea to the Imperial Court during the Ming dynasty. Produced from the second leaf down in the leaf-set, meticulous care is taken to remove the leaf’s central vein when finishing the tea.
8. Tie Guan Yin "Iron Goddess of Mercy", Anxi, Fujian, Oolong Tea
The most famous of the Chinese oolong teas and offered as tribute tea to the Imperial court. Tie Guan Yin is time-consuming to produce. The expertise of the tea master ensures the complex processing and rolling steps are completed perfectly.
9. Tai Ping Hou Kui "Monkey King", Taiping, An Hui, Green Tea
This tea is often quoted by Chinese poets from Tai Ping (An Hui) and was a tribute tea in the Qing dynasty. Its unique shapes makes it unlike all other green teas and it can represent a genuine example of an artisan tea. It was awarded the King of Tea at the China Tea Exhibition (2004).
10. Xin Yang Mao Jian "Yu Maofeng", Xinyang, Henan, Green Tea
Treasured for its refreshing taste and pleasant aroma. The finest and most tender Xin Yang Mao Jian tea leaves are picked from tea trees growing in the high mountain area of Xin Yang. The approximate ratio of fresh leaves to dry leaves is 50,000 buds: 500 grams.
The Steepery Tea Co. carries a number of these famed Chinese teas (follow the links above). We encourage all tea enthusiasts to experience these remarkable teas for yourself . We also have a Rare and Fine Chinese tea sampler (3) and a Mixed Premium Chinese tea sampler (6) to help you get started.
* We currently stock Qimen Aromatic Snail, a wonderful representation of Qimen’s terroir. Slightly more delicate than the Imperial Qimen but with many similar tasting notes.