Siam Tea Blog

Top Ten “Great Teas of China” – the ‘Who is Who’ of Chinese teas (in need of an upgrade)

12 famous Chinese teas from my private tea shelve12 Great Teas of China from my private tea shelve

In 1959, the Chinese ministry of agriculture published a list titled “Ten Great Teas of China”* or “Top Ten Chinese Teas”, based on the perspective and state of knowledge and development at that time:

  1. Long Jing Dragonwell Green Tea 西湖龍井
  2. Bi Luo Chun Spring Snail Green Tea 洞庭碧螺春
  3. Mao Feng “Yellow Mountain Tip” Green Tea 黃山毛峰
  4. Lu Mountain Yunwu (Lu Shan Yun Wu) Green Tea 廬山雲霧
  5. Gua Pian (Melon Seed) Green Tea 六安瓜片
  6. Jun Mountain Silver Needle (Yin Jan) Yellow Tea 君山銀針
  7. Xin Yang Mao Jian Green Tea 信陽毛尖
  8. Da Hong Pao Wuyi “Yancha” Rock Oolong Tea 武夷岩茶
  9. Tie Guan Yin Iron Goddess Oolong Tea 鐵觀音
  10. Keemun Black Tea (Qi Men Hong Cha) 祁門紅茶

Although this list reads like the ‘Who is Who’ of Chinese teas at first sight, most tea drinkers or tea lovers will soon realize the absence of the one or other of their favorite teas there. For example, Pu Erh Tea – integral part of the Chinese tea culture for milleniums – appears to be left out, and the longer you study the list the more teas you are going to be missing on it. Besides the already mentioned Pu Erh Tea, this applies for quite some other Chinese tea classics, such as Lapsang Souchong, one of the oldest and most popular Chinese black teas, “Dian Hong” Black Tea from Yunnan, known for its sweetness and flavor, the not less popular White Peony (“Bai Mu Dan” or “Pai Mu Tan”) white tea, as well as especially newer teas such as for example Anji Bai Cha Green Tea or Lapsang Jin Jun Mei Golden Eyebrows. Interesting enough, taking reference to the map of China also reveals that the list seems to make an intentional effort to represent each Chinese province and/or tea cultivation region, suggesting that such pattern had been an initial criteria in its creation. Also, a certain pattern in the allocation to the major tea categories green tea, Oolong tea, black tea and yellow tea might not be coincidental. Again, it sticks out that the Pu Erh tea category is not represented, while the yellow tea category is at least represented by one type (Jun Mountain Silver Needle Yellow Tea).

In more recent times, an updated Top Ten list has been created as a synthesis of altogether 20 such lists, in order to account for new developments and changes in trends*:

  1. Long Jing Dragonwell Green Tea 西湖龍井
  2. Bi Luo Chun Spring Snail Green Tea 洞庭碧螺春
  3. Tie Guan Yin Iron Goddess Oolong Tea 鐵觀音
  4. Huang Shan (“Fur Peak”) Mao Feng Green Tea 黃山毛峰
  5. Mount Jun Silver Needle (Yin Jan) Yellow Tea 君山銀針
  6. Keemun Black Tea (Qi Men Hong Cha) 祁門紅茶
  7. Da Hong Pao Wuyi Rock Oolong Tea 武夷岩茶
  8. Gua Pian (Melon Seed) Green Tea 六安瓜片
  9. White Fur Silver Needle (Bái Háo Yín Zhēn) White Tea 白毫银针
  10. Pu Erh Tea 云南普洱

My 20 favorite Chinese Teas with their places of origin in China20 Great Teas of Chian with province/place of origin in China

Both for the 1959 original list of the Chinese ministry of agriculture and the lists used for the synthesis of the more modern list the question arises, whether these were generated on the basis of empirical values (for example production or sales figures) and thereby have statistical significance (also with respect to the ranking of each tea) or whether they were rather results of the subjective perception or intention of the individuals or bodies concerned with their creation. Either way, one should assume that such top ten lists of Great Chinese Teas will reflect the trends of the time of their creation at least to a certain degree. Regarding the listed teas (not their ranking), a comparison between the two Top Ten lists returns an 80% match. Added were Pu Erh tea and White Fur Silver Needle (Bái Háo Yín Zhēn), while Lu Shan Yun Wu and Xin Yang Mao Jian green teas had apparently suffered some loss of popularity in comparison and didn’t make it into the Top Ten anymore. Not to forget, the generation of these Top Ten lists was most probably solely based on the Chinese market, while widely or completely ignoring popularity trends on western tea markets such as Central Europe (e.g. the UK) or the US.

To avoid the issues arising from the restriction on selecting 10 different teas, Wikipedia alternatively renders a list in alphabetical order that expressively doesn’t make a claim for completeness (even ruling out the possibility of such): „This is an incomplete list that may never be able to satisfy particular standards for completeness”*. While this list might not be criticizable for its possible incompleteness, and – given the alphabetical order – neither regarding the appropriateness of a ranking, it also lacks any meaningfulness, i. e. it tells us nothing about the historical or present relevance and/or popularity of the teas listed there, so that the above Top Ten lists – by highlighting trends, qualifying teas for eligibility and quantifying their role with a rank – ultimately prove to be a lot more interesting.

One question that inevitably arises when considering the above lists is ‘Why 10’? Inspired by the old list of the “10 Great Teas of China”, we started in 2012 to identify and select high quality representatives of the individual teas featured in the list, in order to add them to our offer at Siam Tea Shop and make such portfolio of high quality high-profile Chinese tea classics available for tea lovers from one single platform. However, we soon should encounter the limitations of these Top Ten lists – whether the original 1959 list, our initial inspiration, or the newer list synthesized from 20 Top Ten lists of Chinese teas in the form of their perceived deviations from the actual preferences of tea lovers in Central Europe and the US. So, when we added our selected representatives of Classic Lapsang Souchong, Jin Jun Mei Black Tea, White Peony White Tea or Anji Bai Cha Green Tea to our “Great Teas of China” line, we just followed our inspirations and perceptions, in a manner of speaking. Meanwhile, I think that our fully grown “Great Teas of China” portfolio will ultimately comprise of at least 20 different teas, each of which would definitely deserve admission to the “Hall of Fame” of Chinese Teas.

Long Jing "Dragonwell" Green Tea: top-ranking on all "Best of" lists of Chinese teasLong Jing “Dragonwell” Greeen Tea – a safe candidate for any “Best of” list

Accordingly, upgrading “the” list, or any such list, for that matter, to at least 20, if not 25 ranks would appear as appropriate to me. This way, newly developed, invented or discovered teas could be considered, doubtful cases resolved and altogether a larger portfolio of Chinese teas promoted through the publication of such ranking list (Top Twenty and/or Top Twenty-Five), without reducing the list’s significance in the slightest. What would certainly be interesting to have as an alternative to lists of tea “classics” that are most probably to at least some degree based on the subjective perception and marketing considerations of their creators, would be the generation of a continuously maintained and updated Chinese tea ranking list that would be based on actual sales numbers and – in the best case – even indicate the rankings of the 20 “Best Selling Teas of China” according to target market (country/trade zone). Such a list would reflect again the current trends on each target market and would also serve as an valuable orientation guide for all stakeholders on the tea market: producers, wholesalers, retailers and, last but not least the tea lover at the end of the value chain.

In congruence with the map/picture on top of this article, this is what – at the present time – my personal Top-20 list “Great Teas of China” looks like (each with province of origin, partially with more detailed regional specification):

  1. Anji Bai Cha Green Tea („Anji White Tea“): Zhejiang (Bezirk Anji)
  2. Bai Mu Dan (Pai Mu Tan, White Peony) White Tea: Fujian (southern part of province)
  3. Bi Luo Chun Green Tea: Jiangsu (Dong Ting Mountain, Lake Tai)
  4. Chun Mee Green Tea: Jiangxi
  5. Da Hong Pao Wuyi Rock Oolong Tea: Fujian (Wuyi Mountains in the north of the province)
  6. Gua Pian (Melon Seed) Green Tea: Anhui (Liu’an County)
  7. Jin Jun Mei Black Tea: Fujian (Wuji Mountains, in the north of the province)
  8. Jun Mountain Silver Needle (Yin Jan) Yellow Tea: Hunan (Jun Shan Island; Dong Ting Lake
  9. Keemun Black Tea (Qi Men Hong Cha): Anhui (Bezirk Qimen)
  10. Lapsang Souchong Smoked Black Tea: Fujian (Wuyi Mountains, in the north of the province)
  11. Long Jing Green Tea: Zhejiang (Hangzhou)
  12. Lu Shan Yun Wu Green Tea: Jiangsu (Lu Mountain) Xishuanbanna, Lincang…)
  13. Mao Feng Green Tea: Anhui (Huangshan “Yellow Mountain”)
  14. Phoenix Dan Cong Oolong Tea: Guangdong (Phoenix Mountain)
  15. Pu Erh Tea: Yunnan (Pu Erh; also: Xishuanbanna, Lincang…)
  16. Tie Guan Yin Iron Goddess Oolong Tea: Fujian (Anxi county in the southern part of the province)
  17. White Fur Silver Needle (Bái Háo Yín Zhēn) White Tea: Fujian (in the southern part of the province)
  18. Xin Yang Mao Jian Green Tea: Henan (several mountains in the southern part of the province)
  19. Yunnan “Dian Hong” Black Tea Yunnan (Fengquing u.a.)
  20. Yunnan Ancient Tree White Moonlight Buds White Tea: Yunnan

For our current offer of “Great Teas of China” at Siam Tea Shop, with detailed description of and information about each tea, please click the following link:

Great Teas of China

* Source for Top Ten Lists of Chinese Teas (“Great Teas of China”): see Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_teas

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: