China produces many green teas, too many to mention (ten thousand, as they say in China). Green tea accounts for more than 50% of the Chinese tea production, and each is often named simply by where it is produced (e.g. Fujian Green, Guanxi Green, etc.). These teas are the equivalent of the French vin de table, or table wine. There are, however some that stand out. The following is a list of the more commonly found China green teas:
This is the basic green tea produced in China. The way the leaf curves is how the tea acquired its name. It is said that the sub types Precious Eyebrow (chun-mee) and Longevity Eyebrow (shou-mei) refer to a woman’s manicured eyebrow and the bushy eyebrows of the elderly respectively. The finest of the mee-cha was picked first in the season (first flush, so to speak), and is called yu-tsien. In the early days of exporting their tea to British customers, the British could not quite muster the wherewithal to pronounce this properly, and thinking that the word sounded much like the Director of the East India Tea Company of the time, Phillip Hyson, the tea was forever onward called Hyson.
Gunpowder/Pearl Tea (zhu-cha)
Tea does not have a particularly long shelf life, and begins to degrade in quality after only a few months of storage. The Chinese discovered that by rolling the tea leaves into little balls (like pearls) the tea would remain fresher for a longer time. No one is entirely sure how the name gunpowder was derived, other than speculation that the barrels of tightly rolled balls may have looked like barrels of gunpowder to some. Gunpowder/Pearl Tea is not a high quality leaf, and is from leaves picked whenever convenient. This results in a so-so tea that will become bitter and astringent if over steeped. One also needs less than the usual amount of tea to brew a cup as it tends to be strong.
Dragon Well (Longjing or Lung Ching)
Perhaps the best (and best known) of the Chinese teas, Dragon well is a particularly unique tea. Revered in China for its “four uniques” (its jade color, distinctive shape, chest-nutty flavor, and vegetal aroma), this tea is comprised of entire tea buds, a testament to the quality and the care used in its production. It produces an emerald liquor with a light and subtle sweetness. This is a difficult tea to make perfect. The most prized is called Qing Ming (or Ching Ming) and is a first flush tea (picked before the first rains), which in China traditionally means before the Quinq Ming festival on April 5th. The second most prized is Guyu which is picked before April 20th. The smallest grade of these two, which is a single leaf with a single leaf bud, is called Queshe. Each of these types has its own distinctive flavor and qualities.
Green Spring Spiral (Pi Lo Chun or Biluochun)
Named by the Qing emperor K’ang-hsi, the name of this tea is also translated as Green Snail Spring (or Green Conch Shell Spring). This is a downy tea picked very early in the spring, and is comprised of only a very young single bud and leaf. Because of this, it takes over sixty thousand buds to make a pound of tea. Due to the delicacy of this tea, the hot water is not poured onto the leaves, but the tea is added to the cup of hot water (no more than 175 degrees Fahrenheit), which also affords the drinker the pleasure of watching the agony of the leaves (the action where the tea leaves slowly unfold in hot water). There are two grades of this tea, both sharing the original name, available, both of which are quite good.
Yellow Mountain Hair Tip (Huangshan Mao Feng)
One of several teas grown on the peaks of China’s holy mountain Huangshan, this tea has also been known as Moyune and is ever more revered than Dragon Well in the West. Comprised of perfect little downy leaves, this tea will create a very delicate but flavorful liquor, and the leaves may be infused over and over, producing wonderful cup after wonderful cup.
Melon Slice (Guapian)
From the Anhui Province, this tea (also called Liuan Guapian) is the poor cousin to Huangshan Mao Feng. While still prized in China for its hearty qualities similar to the aforementioned tea, it is not quite on par, but still an overall good tea.
Hair Point (Maojian)
There are two renown Maojian teas, Xinyang Maojian and Dujan Maojian, and are as pleasurable to watch brew as to drink. Infused in a glass pot, the silvery leaves will swim up and down in the hot water until finally resting vertically on the pot. Drinking this tea has been referred to as a spiritual experience by some.
Cloud and Mist (Yunwu)
One of the rarest teas in all of China, Cloud and Mist is named for the mists that proliferate at certain times of the year in the area in which the tea is grown. These mists keep the leaves moist during their growth period and also filter out some sunlight, which in turn forces the leaves to compensate for the lack of light by increasing their amount of chlorophyll, and altering their chemistry, which also results in a lower caffeine content. This unusually flavored tea is rarely seen outside of China.