Before we go into the details, it's important to note that tea as we know it didn't appear until the 13th century. Before then, tea was brewed in a whole other manner. It was brewed as a medicine. Even the term brewed is a strong word. To say it more correctly, tea leaves were powdered then whisked in a fashion similar to modern-day matcha. Often times this was with the addition of other herbs and spices which had medicinal properties. This was during the Tang Dynasty (618–690, 705–907). China's Top Ten Teas list is a modern-day invention, although it is based on teas which have historically been enjoyed by the country's elite.
Drinking powdered tea gained immense popularity during the Song Dynasty (960–1279). During this time, tea became a significant part of everyday life. Exceptional tea was gifted as a tribute.
It wasn't until the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) people started oxidizing and brewing the tea leaves as we do today. By that time, powdered tea disappeared completely from China's tea culture and hasn't returned.
China's Top Ten Teas
While there isn't an official list of China's top ten teas. We have cross-referenced multiple sources and the following teas have appeared in most of them. The list consists of exceptional teas which were either enjoyed by the Emperors, offered as tribute, or else modern-day teas which have won special awards. You may notice that many of these teas are green teas which originated during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).
Xihu Long Jing Dragon Well Green Tea
Dragon Well tea also holds the not-so-humble nickname "China's Famous Tea." While there are two Long Jing varieties: Xihu (West Lake) Longjing and Zhejiang Lonjing, it is only Xihu Long Jing which gains its spot in the top ten list.
Anyone who has tried Long Jing green tea can't help but fall in love with it. It's truly an exceptional green tea without a rival. West Lake Dragon Well Green Tea is frequently served to VIP guests and heads of states who are visiting China. It's almost exclusively produced in the Hangzhou region of Zhejiang province, China.
Long Jing has held the honor of being chosen as a tribute to the Qing Dynasty by Emperor Qian Long. Read more.
Bi Luo Chun Green Snail Green Tea
Bi Luo Chun was highly revered by the Qing Dynasty Emperor Kangxi. It hails from the Dongting mountains of Jiangsu Province, China.
Bi Luo Chun is renowned for its potent fruity aroma and mellow flavor. A plantation growing Bi Luo Chun combines tea bushes mixed with a variety of fragrant fruit trees to give the tea its distinct fruity smell and taste. This tea is made only from the tips of tea leaves in a very scrupulous process that results in its tightly rolled-up shape.
Huang Shan Mao Feng Yellow Mountain Green Tea
Huang Shan Mao Feng originated during the Qing Dynasty. This exceptional green tea is grown at high altitudes in the Huangshan Mountains of Anhui Province, China. Huang Shan Mao Feng tea bushes are unique because they grow wildly, with no tea bush being the same. Huang Shan is renowned for its sweet and mellow taste, somewhat resembling Long Jing.
Lu An Gua Pian Melon Seeds Green Tea
Lu An Gua Pian is a famous green tea hailing from Lu An in Anhui province, China. It's a relatively new tea, originating in 1905.
What differentiates it from most other green teas is the sweet taste overlaid with an almost smoky, spicy tang. It has the green teas' signature vegetal taste, but the grassiness is not overbearing.
Lu An Gua Pian is not an early spring tea. Instead of plucking the earliest spring buds, Melon Seeds makers wait until the buds mature and unfold. Only then will they get individually picked. For this tea, only the pure leaf is used — no stems, no buds.
Xin Yang Mao Jian Green Tea
Xin Yang Mao Jian comes from Xinyang, Henan province. This tea was exceptionally revered during the Qing Dynasty and still holds a special space in tea drinkers' hearts.
Du Yun Mao Jian Green Tea
Du Yun Mao Jian comes from Duyun County, Guizhou Province. During the Ming Dynasty, Emperor Chongzhen favored this green tea, which eventually became a tribute tea.
Anxi Tie Guan Yin Iron Goddess Oolong Tea
Anxi Tie Guan Yin is a world-renowned delicious and mellow oolong tea hailing from Anxi, Fujian province. Anxi Tie Guan Yin originated during the Qing Dynasty and has a long, rich history.
Compared to other Chinese teas, Tie Guan Yin's making process is the most complicated one, and the heavy tossing (yaoqing) is considered the most critical step. It is the key stage to form the Guan Yin Yun (观音韵) and the distinctive floral fragrance of Tie Guan Yin that makes it unique.
Traditional Tie Guan Yin has a higher degree of fermentation than most other oolong teas. Its mellow, soft, and long-lasting lingering taste will make you crave more. Read more.
Yancha Wuyi Rock Tea
Wuyi Rock Teas, also known as yancha, are all rare yet delicious oolong teas. While Da Hong Pao is the most well-known throughout the world, there are a few other yancha varieties that might win over your heart. Either way, they are all worth tasting. What makes them exceptional is the "yan yun," loosely translated as "rock rhyme" — mineral, well-balanced, graceful. Read more.
Imperial Keemun Black Tea
Keemun black tea's fresh leaves are loaded with nutrients. The processed dry leaves look neat and bold, having tiny golden tips. The taste — truly unforgettable — robust, malty, sweet, and floral. An exceptionally rich yet well-balanced tea.
Keemun black tea also originated during the Qing Dynasty. It holds the reputation of being the finest black teas on Earth. The British Royal Family are known to enjoy drinking Keemun black tea.
Lu shan Yun Wu Clouds and Mist Green Tea
Moistened by the high mountain clouds and mist, Lu Shan Yun Wu is one of the most graceful green teas. This tea is characterized by a rich aroma and mellow, long-lasting flavor. Lu Shan Yun Wu leaves are curled into small spirals during the unique rolling process, where the tea leaves are placed in a rounded bamboo basket and then get rolled by hand into strips.