Thursday, May 28, 2015

A Beginner’s Guide to Green, White, and Yellow Tea

Chart from the National Tea Museum

Chart from the National Tea Museum

I have to be honest. I find green tea (lǜchá 绿茶) the least interesting type of tea (unless it is Jasmine tea which is divine). Most of the world, however, does not agree. In China, the birthplace of tea (Camellia sinensis), 70% of the tea produced is green tea. Traveling throughout China you will notice most people walking around with a thermos of green tea. 

Green tea is unoxidized, minimally processed tea. It is sun-dried, steamed, or dried in a wok over low heat, and rubbed into shape. It is best used fresh; within 6 months or so. White tea (bái chá 白茶) is even less processed than green tea. Tender leaves and unopened buds are allowed to wither in the sun and to maintain their natural shape. The resulting tea leaves have a gray/white hue and when brewed produce a light green tea liquid. Yellow tea (huáng chá 黄茶) is made by piling the rubbed tea leaves and changing the texture quality of the leaves under carefully controlled heat and humidity; a process known as Menhuang. The resulting tea leaves have a yellow hue and the resulting brewed tea liquid is noticeably yellow.

White tea

White tea

Health Benefits of Green Tea, White, and Yellow Tea 

All three are high in antioxidants compared to other types of tea. They are cooling and best during summer or hot weather and for hot, inflamed conditions. They promote digestion, alleviate some types of headache, remove toxins, and help allay the effects of greasy foods. White tea has the coldest thermal temperature and is used to clear heat and fever.

Taste of Green, White, and Yellow Tea 

White tea has the most delicate fragrance and taste of all the teas. Green tea is characterized by a fresh, green, slightly bitter taste and aroma. Yellow tea has less fragrance than green tea and a sweeter taste.

Types of Green, White, and Yellow Tea

Yellow tea

Yellow tea

I recommend sampling tea from each category to find your favorite style(s). JK Teashop offers great quality teas and samples.

There are over 60 varieties of Green Tea listed in Chinese tea books, and perhaps thousands lesser known. Some of the most well known varieties are Long Jing (Dragon Well), Zhu Ye Qing (Green Bamboo Leaf), Bi Luo Chun (Green Snail Spring), Lu’An Gua Pian (Lu’An Melon Seed Tea), Tai Ping Hou Kui (Peaceful Monkey Leader), and Mao Jian (Hairy Tips). Long Jing tea is a good place to start.

White Tea is mainly produced in Fuding, Fujian Province. Varieties include Baimudan (White Peony), Baihao Yinzhen (White Hair Silver Needle), and Shoumei.

Yellow Tea varieties include Mengding Huangya (Yellow Buds), Huoshan Huangya (Yellow Buds), and Huoshan Huangdacha (Big Yellow Tea).

Scented teas process the tea leaves with flowers. This includes: Jasmine Tea, Jasmine Pearl Tea, Orchid Tea, and Performance Tea (green tea leaves are bound with beautiful flowers that unfurl n hot water). I recommend trying Jasmine Tea as one of your first experiences with green tea.


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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Beginner’s Guide to Dark (Black) Tea

Chinese tea categories are a little different in Chinese than in English which can create some confusion. Black tea in English is called red tea (hóng chá 红茶) because the color of the brewed tea is reddish. Dark or black tea (hēi chá 黑茶) in Chinese refers to a category of post-fermented teas historically popular amongst Chinese minority populations who eat higher amounts of meat. It was also used as tribute tea because dark tea gets better with age, like wine, and could weather the long journeys. Dark tea includes Pu’er tea (pǔ’ěrchá 普洱茶) from Yunnan Province, Fuzhuan from Hu’nan, Qingzhuan from Hubei, and Liubao cha from Guangxi. Pu’er has become popular in the past decade as a collector’s item and health drink.

Health Benefits of Pu’er Tea

Pu’er is used to counteract the heavy nature of meat during meals, helps lower cholesterol (especially when brewed with Chrysanthemum flowers), aids weightloss, improves blood circulation, protects against cancer, is antiaging, and reduces hypertension. The enzymes used to process pu’er aid digestion and regulate bowel movements.*

Taste of Pu’er

Ripe pu’er has a mellow, earthy fragrance and taste and produces a dark red tea liquid. Raw pu’er produces a lighter tea liquid and the taste varies with age. Young (under 5 years old) raw pu’er has a distinct astringency and bitterness and produces a yellow tea liquid. After 5 years it begins to darken and mellow and increase in complexity. The flavor continues to improve as it is aged 20+ years.

Types of Pu’er

Tea made from small tender leaves is considered better quality and more expensive (this is true in all tea categories) than tea made from large leaves. The picking standard of high quality teas typically includes 1 bud and 1-2 leaves. Premium teas are less bitter, more subtle, and more complex than cheap tea. Interestingly, my teachers all preferred using low quality, bitter tea for medicine claiming the action was more potent.

The tea plant (Camellia sinensis) began as a large tree and evolved into smaller trees and shrubs. All continue to be cultivated for tea. Pu’er is divided into that made from old arbor trees, young trees, bushes, and geography, all of which affect the taste profile. JK Teashop has a large selection of pu’er and offer samplers. I recommend trying several types and finding your preferred style(s).

Ripe vs Raw Pu'erRaw Pu’er is made by drying the tea leaves and compressing them into cakes, blocks, or other shapes. They are then aged for at least 5 years (and up to 20-30 years). During this time natural bacteria transform the tea’s taste and properties. Raw pu’er under 5 years of age looks green and is astringent tasting and a bit harsh, though some enjoy it at this stage. After about 5 years of proper storage the tea begins to mellow and darken. At 10 years or over the tea becomes earthy, mellow, and complex. Aged raw pu’er is more expensive. The issue I have is that when I buy raw pu’er I feel pressured to save it, like I would a good quality wine, and end up not drinking it as often as ripe pu’er. Raw and ripe pu’er are like two different types of tea and I enjoy them both.

In the 1980’s a new method of pile fermentation was developed to speed up the fermentation process of pu’er tea. This is called Ripe Pu’er. It does not need to be aged and can be enjoyed immediately. It can be stored for long periods of time. The tea liquid is dark red and the flavor is mellow and earthy, and less complex and variable than raw pu’er. Ripe pu’er is cheaper and often a better choice for those who want a daily drink for health benefits.

Loose Pu’er can be raw or ripe. It has been packed loose rather than formed into cakes or bricks.

Zhutong Cha is tea processed in bamboo stalks. This mellows the taste and adds complexity. Various parts of the bamboo plant are used in Tradtional Chinese Medicine TCM to clear Heat and resolve Phlegm.

Old Tea Lump (Lao Cha Tou) are clumps that develop from pile fermentation in the production of ripe pu’er. These clumps are unevenly fermented and removed from the pile. They retain qualities of both ripe and raw pu’er. It is more fragrant and complex than regular ripe pu’er.

Flowers can be added to pu’er to enhance the taste and health benefits. As mentioned before, Chrysanthemum flowers are added for cholesterol and hypertension issues. Rose flowers pair very well with the earthy pu’er tea and helps aid circulation and stress-relief.

*This is what has been studied and reported in China. These claims have not been reviewed by the FDA.


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Monday, May 25, 2015

Beginner’s Guide to Oolong (Wu Long) Tea

Chinese tea culture can feel intimidating at first, but it shouldn’t be. It is about experiencing and experimenting until you find what you like. Oolong tea (wūlóng 乌龙) is one of the 6 main tea categories: white, green, yellow, oolong, black, and puerrh. Oolong is partially oxidized, whereas white, green, and yellow are unoxidized and black tea is fully oxidized. Puerrh is fermented tea.

Oolong for Health

Oolong is traditionally recommended during fall. It can also be brewed year round to assist with weight loss and help maintain healthy levels of cholesterol. For high cholesterol or hypertension brew with chrysanthemum flower.

Oolong for Taste

The processing to make oolong tea is more complicated than green or black tea, producing a more complex tea experience. Oolong tea is incredibly fragrant, with a mix of floral, fruit, and smokey depending on the variety.  The taste can be a combination of sweet, pungent, light, heavy, fruity, and floral.

Oolong Tea Categories

All tea comes from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis). Different types of tea, and different subcategories, are the result of different tea plant varieties, age of the plant, growing region, and processing. I recommend sampling a tea from different subcategories to decide which style(s) you like. My favorite website to order from is JK Teashop. The quality of the tea is excellent and they offer several sample options.

tie guan yin oolong

Tie Guan Yin Oolong

Anxi Oolong is from the famous tea-growing region of Anxi County in Fujian Province, China. Oolong from this region is characterized by its low oxidation (about 15%) making it closer to green tea in appearance and tea color. The dried tea leaves are rolled into little balls and are green. They emit a strong floral fragrance. Anxi oolong includes Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy), Huang Jin Gui (Golden Osmanthus), Benshan, and Maoxie. Tie Guan Yin oolong is arguably the most popular type of oolong of any category. It has a beautiful complex aroma and taste that lasts multiple infusions. I have not met anyone who did not like it.




Wu Yi Shan Oolong

Wuyi Yan (Rock) Oolong is the earliest type of oolong. It is heavily oxidized (30-60%) giving a smoky dimension to fragrance and taste. It is called “rock” tea because it is planted between rocks and gives off the fragrance of flowers growing on rocks. Wuyi Yan oolong includes Dahongpao, Tieluohan, Baijiguan, Shuijingui, Rougui (Cinnamon), and Shuixian (Daffodil). Dahongpao oolong is the most popular in this category due to its enduring orchid fragrance and sweet aftertaste.





Dancong Oolong

Dancong Oolong is characterized by a floral and honey taste and fragrance. Dancong oolongs are categorized by geographic location, Phoenic or Ling Tou, and their floral characteristics such as Mi Lan Xiang (Honey Orchid Fragrance),  Huang Zhi Xiang (Yellow Gardenia Fragrance), Jiang Hua Xiang (Ginger Flower Fragrance), Xing Ren Xiang (Almond Fragrance), and Gui Hua Xiang (Osmanthus Flower Fragrance). Try one based on your flower preference.




I have not explored Taiwanese Oolongs, though they are known to be more heavily oxidized than other types of oolong (meaning they are closer to black tea than green tea). Taiwan’s climate is conducive to tea production so they have many tea-producing regions and varieties. Types of Taiwanese oolong include Baihao (Pengfeng), Wenshan Baozhong, Dongding, Yushan, Alishan, Lishan, and Jinxuan. Dongding oolong is considered the elite of Taiwanese oolongs.

Reprocessed Oolong tea takes oolong tea leaves and adds flowers or herbs to enhance flavor or health effects. Common flower essences added to oolong are gardenia and osmanthus. Ginseng oolong is a popular health tea where ginseng powder is added to oolong leaves.


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Saturday, May 16, 2015

Long Jing, Bamboo Leaf, and Spirit Tea of the Three Gorges

Confucius Teahouse

Confucius Teahouse

During my trip to Beijing in 2012 I fell in love with Chinese tea culture. I had long understood the health benefits of green, oolong, and puerrh, but I had not experienced the ceremony nor the quality of tea until that trip. Unfortunately I was not as tech savvy so I do not have video of the ceremonies or many pictures, but my favorite teahouse was the Confucious Teahouse across the street from the ancient Confucius Temple in Beijing. The teahouse is also next door to a vegetarian Buddhist restaurant that is still one of my favorite restaurants in China.

On this trip my experience of Chinese tea deepened as I discovered a few other jewels:

Teahouse in Suzhou

Long Jing tea at teahouse in Suzhou.

West Lake Long Jing Tea 西湖龙井茶

I prefer the ceremony and fragrance of oolong tea, but I was still enamored with the fresh green tea Hangzhou is famous for. West Lake is a scenic area in Hangzhou and West Lake tea is traditionally served in clear glass so that one can appreciate the beauty of the unfurling leaves.

Chinese people prefer green tea (70% of tea produced in China is green tea). Of all the teas it is the most cooling (anti-inflammatory) and cleansing. Green tea is the least processed form of tea and is best fresh. Perhaps this why green tea was not popular in export markets until modern times.

Long Jing tea fields

Long Jing tea fields ready for harvest at the China Tea Museum in Hangzhou.

Long Jing (Dragon Well) tea is perhaps the most popular type of green tea in China. Hangzhou attracts tourists from all over China in May to drink and buy the fresh Spring harvest. Chinese tea is divided into several types and subtypes. There are the basic tea categories: green, white, yellow, oolong (wu long), red, and black. These are further divided by tea plant varietal, region grown, and processing which affect the taste, health benefits, etc. of the tea. Long Jing is green tea grown on tea plants in Hangzhou and surrounding areas and processed the local way.

Zhu Ye Qing

Zhu Ye Qing tea

Zhu Ye Qing Tea 竹叶青茶

It is grown in Sichuan Province. Literally “bamboo leaf green” tea, this green tea has a distinct astringency and bamboo-like freshness. Zhu Ye Qing is currently popular in China for its health benefits, particularly in promoting heart health.

We Shan Spirit tea

Wu Shan Spirit tea

Wu Shan Spirit Tea 巫山伸茶

Judith and I happened upon this tea in Fengdu Ghost City. Sweet iced tea was being sold as the symbol of the mythological forgetting tea souls would drink before crossing the bridge into the underworld. Later, when we visited with the local Wu Shan people (people of Mt. Wu), a minority ethnic group also called the Tujia people, we learned that this is their daily tea. It has the color of a Wuyi Rock oolong tea, but is very delicate with a sweet honey fragrance and taste. Our guide pointed to the old tea trees growing at the top of the mountains where the tea came from. She carried around a glass thermos with tea, as many Chinese do. Our guide, like many others, had been displaced from her ancestral home along the Yangtze River with the building of the Three Gorges Dam.

Wu Shan Shen Cha Fengdu

Fengdu forgetting tea

Wu Shan Shen Cha

Wu Shan woman holding Wu Shan Spirit tea.

Wu Shan People

Mountains where old tea trees that produce Wu Shan Spirit tea grow.

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