Covering Chinese green tea is a daunting task. It’s the reason why we have tea period. There is so much history behind it, and unfortunately I, nor anybody, can ever truly do its justice, especially because tea history isn’t always documented, so there are many parts which remain lost forever in the past.
With that in mind, the first tea, as we know it, was a Chinese green. Prior to tea as we know it, tea was a convoluted brew. The leaves were crushed up in a powder, similar how they are in Matcha, but the powder was blended with unexpected ingredients, not limited to rice, onions, ginger, and orange zest. After the tea was blended, it was steeped in salt water. This brew was popularized anywhere from 206 BCE – 220 CE. It wasn’t until somewhere between 760-780 CE where tea became more similar to the beverage as we know it today. During this time, a man named Lu Yu was present, and his presence was so important, he was awarded the title Sage of Tea. He came along and improved tea as a beverage, making it less like, in his words “rinsing water of gutters,” and more appealing; taking out all of the added ingredients to the brew. Essentially, the artful simplicity of tea, and the culture surrounding it is largely due to Lu Yu.
In the time of Lu Yu, tea was compressed into cakes. Though the production then was different than the production now, the tea cakes were technically green teas, as the oxidation process was halted immediately, which is a trait unique to the genre.
As mentioned in the white tea post, in 1391 tea cakes were outlawed as they were being used for currency, and a sort of tea black market emerged which had a negative impact on the economy. All existing tea cakes were ordered to be destroyed, which left the tea industry in an awful place for 150 years. Out of this ban, though, modern tea production was invented, and loose leaf green tea as we know it was first made.
Chinese green tea is so vast of a category, it’s a difficult nail to specifically hit. I can’t find the exact number, but most tea estates in China produce green tea. The geography of China makes for much variety in tea, which can make it intimidating for newcomers and veteran tea connoisseurs alike. Here is a list of some of the most common Chinese green teas and their attributes. Note that there are not pictures of all of the teas. This will be addressed when it comes to publish officially, but for now, unfortunately I don’t have my own pictures, nor royalty free ones for all of them.
Long Jing: Translated to Dragon Well. It’s perhaps the most common Chinese green in the Western world. Good Long Jing is processed almost entirely by hand. Its flavour is full-bodied but gentle, sweet and grassy. When being steeped, Long Jing leaves “stand up” straight, rather than float around in every which direction like most other tea. For this reason, you may want to enjoy Long Jing in a small glass teapot or gaiwan; however, it’s said that you will get the most out of the flavour in a Yixing teapot (more on this at a later post.) I have not tried this personally, but apparently you are able to eat Jong Jing leaves after steeping. Pictured below
An Ji Bai Cha: Translated to An Ji White Tea, which is confusing as it’s a green tea. So, I recommend to forget the translation. Most dealers will label it by its Chinese name, anyway. An Ji Bai Cha is said to be some of the most sought-after Chinese green tea. It wasn’t until the 1980s where commercial cultivation began. It’s a green tea with a rich history – possibly originating more than 900 years ago. It has a clean, subtle light steep, and gorgeous aroma. It is a light tasting tea, so some may find it a little tasteless. I think that’s probably why the translation is “white tea,” I would recommend steeping this in a gaiwan.
Huang Shan Mao Feng: Translated to Yellow Mountain Fur Peak, as the processed leaves look similar to a mountain peek, and the leaves themselves are covered in tiny hairs. It’s a great day-to-day standard Chinese green tea. It’s fresh, grassy, and can be mild or strong in flavour. According to legend, a young scholar and young tea picker fell passionately in love. The scholar was murdered by a businessman who wanted the girl for himself, then forced her to marry him. During the night before the wedding, the girl snuck out of the businessman’s house and wept at the scholar’s grave. She cried so much, she turned into the rain. The rain, which was a manifestation of the girl’s longing turned the scholar’s body into a tea tree. The tea tree became the Huang Shan Mao Feng tree, and they are now together in the manifestations of a tea tree and the rain. This tea can be enjoyed to much of its potential in a variety of means; a teapot, French press, gaiwan. Pictured below.
Liu An Gua Pian: Translated as Liu An Melon Seed. The processing is unique, as while most good quality Chinese greens utilize the bud of the leaf, this tea utilizes the second leaf on the branch. The centre vein of the leaf is removed, and then the leaves are rolled to shape. This is a rare tea, and possibly my favourite Chinese green. It tastes rich, soft, delicate, and the flavour lingers in your mouth for a long time. This tea is best enjoyed in a gaiwan or small teapot. Pictured below.
Tai Ping Houkei: Translated to Monkey Leader. This is an exceptional tea which has won many awards for its qualities. In addition to being a wonderfully tasting green tea, it also looks beautiful when it’s being steeped. It has long leaves, sometimes as long as 8.5cm (3.3 inches), and they gracefully dance around the steeping vessel when water is added to it. Traditionally, it’s picked early in the season, which creates a subtle taste, but a lot of Tai Ping Houkei on the marked is picked later in the season, which causes it to have a heavy full-bodied flavour. Because of the pretty leaves, as well as their size, this tea might not be as well suited for a gaiwan. This tea will be enjoyed in a glassware, to appreciate the visuals as well as the taste. With this tea, you can even steep it directly into a mug or, more romantically, a tall glass.
Bi Lo Chun: Translated to Green Snail Spring as its shape resembles that of snail meat. It is a highly regarded tea in China, with some authorities ranking it the best darn green tea period. It tastes fruity, floral, subtle, and overall is a gentle tea. Now, I’m not sure why this is the origin myth for this tea, but it just is. So bare with me. There once was a tea picker who was exceptional at her job, and filled her basket full of tea leaves in no time at all. She discovered a new looking tree, and figured she should try it out. Unfortunately, she had no room in her basket, so she instead put the tea leaves between her breasts. The body heat from her breasts warmed the leaves, and let out an aroma so unique, so wonderful, that it startled her. Originally, the name, because of this myth, was actually “Scary Fragrance”, but it was changed to “Green Snail Spring” by an emperor who thought the origin myth was too vulgar, and wished not to acknowledge it. Pictured below.
Zu Cha: Translated to Gunpowder Tea, and you will almost always see it as its translation in the west. There are a few theories about why it’s called Gunpowder Tea in English, as the real translation is “pearl tea”. The first theory is that the tea leaves themselves look like little bits of gunpowder, and they open up or “explode” when steeped. The second theory is that since it has a smokey flavour, us Westerners said “Hey, do you know what else is smokey? Guns!” The third theory is that there’s a phrase in Mandarin which means Freshly Brewed. It’s “Gang Pao De” (say it out loud), and when westerners visited China, they mistakenly thought that was what the tea name was, rather than just a descriptor. I say, why not all three? As mentioned, Gunpowder has a smokey flavour, but has this almost coppery aftertaste to it. It’s thick-tasting, and overall hearty. It is often blended with mint. This is a resilient tea for steeping and can be enjoyed in many ways, similar to the Huang Shan Mao Feng. Pictured below.
Jasmine Green Tea: Often it is in a pearl shape, and is such also called Dragon Pearls, Phoenix Pearls, Jasmine Pearls, things like that. Essentially, it’s any green tea which was wafted with the scent of Jasmine flowers. Typically, the green tea base is not a high quality, especially given that the Jasmine will overpower much of the flavour. As such, tea snobs don’t tend to gravitate especially towards this, but if you like jasmine, then I wholly suggest you indulge yourself. It makes a lovely evening tea or a tea to have after a meal. Like Gunpowder, it is a resilient steeper, so feel free to steep it in many ways. Pictured below.
I have left out many teas. You could write volumes of books on different Chinese Green teas alone, and that’s part of the fun. You could go your whole life touring around China, trying to taste all the different Chinese Greens, and you still wouldn’t get all of them. Listed are just some of the most common ones. Start tasting!