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Chinese Tea Categories, Chinese Tea Guide

Jun 21,2024 | TeaTsy Team

Chinese tea is renowned for its variety and depth of flavor. Each type of tea is processed uniquely, resulting in distinct characteristics. Understanding these types can enhance your appreciation and selection of tea.

5 Types of Chinese Tea

Chinese tea can be categorized into five main types: black tea, green tea, white tea, oolong tea, and pu-erh tea. Each type has its processing method and unique qualities.

About Black Tea

Chinese black tea, known as red tea (Hong Cha) in China, is fully oxidized, giving it a dark color and rich, bold flavor. This type of tea is often enjoyed with milk and sugar. In contrast to semi-oxidized and post-fermented teas, which produce green and dark-colored teas respectively, red tea is distinct for its reddish brew.

about black tea

Historically, before the mid-17th century (Late Ming/Early Qing Dynasty), the majority of tea consumed in China was green and un-fermented, or semi-fermented. The invention of black tea has an interesting story. It is said that a passing army camped at a tea factory in the Wuyi Mountain area of Fujian Province, causing a delay in tea production. To make up for lost time, a farmer dried the tea leaves over a smoking fire of pine wood, imparting a unique smoky and fruity flavor to the tea. This process led to the creation of Lapsang Souchong, which paved the way for the development of a family of teas that became popular in China and a staple in the West.

In China, what the West calls "black tea" is actually post-fermented tea, like the famous Pu-Erh, which continues to ferment and age over time, similar to vintage wine. For more information on these teas, see Pu-Erh Teas.

About Green Tea

Green tea is minimally processed to preserve its green color and fresh taste. The leaves are quickly heated or steamed to prevent oxidation, resulting in a light, grassy flavor and high levels of antioxidants. 

green tea

Green tea is grown in various regions of China, including Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangxi, Jiangsu, Sichuan, Hunan, Hubei, Guangxi, Fujian, and Guizhou. The best seasons to purchase green tea are spring and autumn. 

It contains pharmacological elements such as caffeine, flavonol, tea polyphenol, vitamins C and E, catechins, carotene, and minerals like zinc, selenium, and fluoride.

Read about the benefits of green tea for more information.

About White Tea

White tea is one of China's special treasures, crafted from the youngest and most tender hand-picked leaf tips and buds. This meticulous process results in a fresh, delicate flavor and a snowy or silver-colored brew, from which white tea gets its name. Due to its labor-intensive production, white tea is also among the most expensive chinese teas available.

white tea

White tea is primarily produced in the Jianyang, Fuding, and Songxi counties in Fujian Province. These hilly areas, with their red and yellow mountain soils, mild year-round climate, and abundant rainfall, contribute to the tea's unique character. For example, in Fuding, the average annual temperature is 18.5°C (65.3°F) and the annual precipitation is about 1660 mm (65 inches). Additionally, Taiwan produces a small amount of white tea.

The most popular types of white tea are White Peony (Bai Mu Dan) and Silver Needle (Bai Hao Yin Zhen). White Peony is made from the first and second tips of a tea stem, giving it the best quality and its name, as the brewed leaves resemble blooming flowers in springtime. Silver Needle, the most expensive of the white teas, is made solely from the single tips of the tea stem. When dried, these tips look like silver needles, and the tea itself has a light yellow color with a refreshing taste and aroma.

About Oolong Tea

Chinese Oolong tea, between green tea and black tea, is a semi-fermented tea with an oxidization level ranging from 8% to 70%. It combines the fresh aroma of green tea with the richness of black tea for a unique, layered flavor. Oolong tea is also known as "clear tea" in China.

Oolong tea

The production process of Oolong tea is complex, requiring several steps such as withering, shaking, killing, kneading, and baking. Withering causes the tea leaves to lose some of their moisture while shaking causes the tea leaves to ferment slightly around the edges by repeatedly shaking them, resulting in a unique aroma and flavor. The next step of greening stop the fermentation by applying high temperature to keep the tea leaves fresh. Finally, the tea leaves are twisted and roasted to create the characteristic shape and flavor of Oolong tea.

Oolong tea is mainly produced in Wuyi Mountain and Anxi in Fujian Province, China, and Fenghuang Mountain in Guangdong Province. In addition, Taiwan is also an important producer of Oolong tea, famous for its high mountain tea. Oolong tea can be categorized into four main types based on the region of cultivation and processing:

  1. Northern Fujian Province:  Wu Yi Tea (also called Cliff Tea or Rock Tea)
  2. Southern Fujian Province: Tie Guan Yin (also called Chinese Oolong, Iron Buddha, Buddha of Mercy, Gun Yam)
  3. Guangdong Province:  Phoenix Oolong (also called Dan Chong Tea)
  4. Taiwan: Tung Ting, High Mountain, Alishan, Baojung  

About Pu-Erh Tea

Pu-erh tea is a unique Chinese tea known for its unique fermentation and aging process. It is mainly produced in China's Yunnan Province and is made from Yunnan's large-leafed sun-green gross tea through post-fermentation and long-term storage. There are two main types of Pu-erh tea: raw Pu-erh (raw tea) and ripe Pu-erh (ripe tea).

puerh tea

The brewing method of Chinese Pu-erh tea is also somewhat delicate. Usually using a purple sand pot or a gaiwan bowl, the tea is first washed with boiling water to remove impurities and awaken the aroma of the tea before it is brewed. The brewing time and number of times will vary for different years and types of Pu'er tea.

Pu-erh Tea Like the world's famous wine regions, the production of Pu-erh tea is strictly regulated to ensure the highest quality and authenticity. By law, only aged tea from Yunnan Province can be called Pu'er tea.

Categories of Chinese Tea - 4 Methods of Oxidation

In the introduction to the types of Chinese tea, we mentioned fermented, unfermented, and oxidized information. Let's take a closer look. According to the oxidization method used during processing, Chinese tea can be divided into 4 categories: 


These teas are ready with minimal processing: picking, drying, and packaging. The leaves can be steamed, flattened, twisted, or rolled into small balls to bring out the aroma or flavor of the tea, prevent oxidation, and preserve its natural green and fresh taste. Unoxidized Chinese teas such as green and white teas.

Fully Oxidized

These teas are fully oxidized and have a dark color and strong flavor. Black tea (known as black tea in China) is the best example. Tea leaves are placed in a warm, humid place for a few hours to allow the tea to darken, as the chemicals in the tea react with the air to break down the leaves, resulting in flavor. The tea is then dried by various methods, which can affect the flavor of the tea, and then graded and packaged.


These teas are partially oxidized and fall between green and black teas in terms of oxidation and flavor. Oolong tea is a well-known semi-oxidized tea.

Post-Fermented (Aged)

These teas undergo a fermentation process after drying and kneading and continue to age over time. Pu-erh is the most famous post-fermented tea, known for its unique aging process and earthy flavor.

In addition to the 4 basic categories above, there are 2 additional ones:

Smoked Teas

Smoked teas are a unique category of Chinese tea, where the tea leaves are subjected to smoke from the burning of wood or other plant material during the drying process.

For example, monkey head tea (one of the three types of Dahongpao and Zhengshan Xiaojiao)

The resulting tea has a strong smoky aroma and flavor, often reminiscent of a campfire or smoked food. Smoked tea is particularly popular in Western countries and is often enjoyed by those who prefer a strong and distinctive flavor.

Scented or Flavoured Teas

There are two types: natural and artificial.

Aromatic or flavored teas are made by adding the natural aromas and flavors of flowers, fruits, spices, or other plants to the tea leaves. Beware of scented teas that use low-grade leaves and artificial flavors.

This process can be done by mixing the tea leaves with the aromatic ingredients or by storing them together and allowing the tea to absorb these flavors. One of the most popular scented teas is jasmine tea, where fresh jasmine flowers are added to green or white tea leaves to give the tea a light floral aroma.

Other examples include Earl Grey (black tea flavored with bergamot oil) and rose tea (tea blended with rose petals). These teas come in a variety of flavors and aromas to suit different tastes and preferences.