Green tea is one of the most popular types of tea in the world, and China is one of the largest producers of green tea. Chinese green teas come in a variety of shapes and flavors, and each type has its unique taste and aroma. In this article, we will explore loose leaf green tea according to the variety of tea leaf shapes and their characteristics.
History and production of loose leaf green tea in China
Some of the green teas we know today can be traced back to the Tang dynasty, more than 1000 years ago. However, compared to modern days green teas, they mostly refer to a specific tea tree variety or a production area. As for processing, it has virtually nothing in common with green tea production nowadays. Let's explore the main production steps in green tea processing.
As with all six tea types, green tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Green tea is unoxidized, giving it a lighter and fresher taste. The production of green tea involves several steps, including harvesting, fixing, rolling, and drying.
The first step in green tea production is harvesting the tea leaves. The best quality green tea comes from hand-picked young and tender leaves and buds. The harvest timing depends on the climate, altitude, and variety of tea. Usually, it starts in early spring and can continue till the autumn.
The next step in green tea production is fixing or "killing the green" (Sha Qing – 杀青). This step prevents the leaves from further oxidation. It involves heating the leaves quickly to a high temperature by pan-frying, baking, or steaming. Pan-frying is a traditional method used in China, where the leaves are placed in a hot wok and tossed for a few minutes until they become soft and fragrant. Steaming is mostly used in Japan, where the leaves are exposed to steam for 30-60 seconds to achieve the same result. Baking is occasionally used in both countries.
After fixing, tea farmers roll the tea leaves in the next processing stage. In this way, they break the cell walls and release the flavor and aroma compounds in the tea leaves. This step involves using a machine or hand-rolling the leaves into various shapes, such as needles, curls, or spirals, depending on the type of tea. The goal is to shape the leaves evenly and compactly to preserve their freshness and aroma.
The final step in green tea production is drying or firing the leaves to remove any remaining moisture and stabilize their quality. This step involves exposing the leaves to heat, either by baking or roasting, to reduce their moisture content to less than 5%. The goal is to create a shelf-stable product that can be transported and stored without losing flavor and aroma.
Loose Leaf Green tea types according to the leaf shape
The flat shape is the most common shape of Chinese green tea leaves. This shape is achieved by roasting the tea leaves in a wok, which makes them flat and upright. Some examples of green teas with this shape include Longjing tea (or Dragonwell tea) from Hangzhou and Tai Ping Houkui from Anhui.
Long Jing (Dragon Well) is one of the most famous and highly-regarded Chinese green teas. It grows in the West Lake region of Hangzhou and is known for its flat and upright leaves. Longjing tea (or Dragon Well Tea) has a fresh and nutty flavor and is often described as having a sweet aftertaste. It is a favorite among tea connoisseurs and is a cherished gift in China.
* Flat-shaped Longjing tea buds
Tai Ping Houkui is another Chinese green tea with flat leaves. It is grown in the Huangshan Mountains in Anhui province and has a fresh and grassy flavor. Taiping Houkui is often described as having a refreshing aftertaste and is a favorite among tea drinkers in China. It is interesting to point out that Tai Ping Houkui's shape is referred to as "flower-shaped" (Hua Xing, 花型) in China, as it resembles the unopened petals of a flower bud.
The shape of the tea leaves is round, tight, and straight. It is formed using young tea leaves rolled into thin, needle-like shapes. The straight (needle) shape gives the tea a delicate and sweet taste and aroma. Famous types of straight green tea include Xinyang Maojian from Henan and Yuhua tea from Jiangsu.
Xinyang Maojian (also known as Yu Maofeng) grows mostly in the Xinyang region of Henan. It is often described as having a strong and brisk taste, with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Xinyang Maojian is a popular ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine to treat ailments such as indigestion and high blood pressure.
Yuhua tea, also known as Yuhua Xinyang tea, is a type of green tea produced in the Yuhua District of Nanjing, located in Jiangsu Province, China. It is one of the most famous teas from the region and is well-known for its delicate aroma and mellow taste with a slightly astringent finish.
The curled shape is achieved by rolling the tea leaves during processing. This shape is common in many types of green teas, including Du Yun Mao Jian. The curled shape gives the tea leaves a unique taste and aroma, allowing them to be brewed multiple times without losing their flavor.
Du Yun Mao Jian is Chinese green tea with curly, slender leaves and a rich, mellow flavor. It comes from the Du Yun region of Sichuan Province, China. The region's unique climate and soil conditions provide ideal growing conditions for this high-quality tea.
One of the key steps in the production of Du Yun Mao Jian tea is the rolling process, which gives the tea leaves their distinctive curly shape. The result is a tea with a smooth, mellow flavor that is slightly sweet and nutty.
The beaded shape forms by tightly rolling the tea leaves into small balls or pellets. This shape is common in many Chinese green teas, including Gunpowder and Dragon Pearls Jasmine Green Tea. The beaded shape allows the tea to be stored for long periods without losing its flavor.
Gunpowder is a Chinese green tea that is known for its balled leaves. Its growing and production area is in Zhejiang province. This tea has a smoky and earthy flavor. Gunpowder is often described as having a slightly bitter taste with a hint of sweetness. It is a popular green tea variety everywhere in the world, especially in North Africa.
Dragon Pearl Jasmine Green Tea is Chinese green tea scented with fresh jasmine flowers. Farmers roll the young tea leaves into tiny, tight pearls. Then they infuse them with the fragrance of fresh jasmine blossoms. This results in a tea with a delicate, floral flavor and aroma that is both refreshing and soothing.
To create Dragon Pearl Jasmine Green Tea, farmers pick the young tea leaves and then roll them into pearls about the size of a pea. The tea pearls dry in the sun or in a low-temperature oven to stop oxidation and preserve their fresh, green color.
Next, the tea pearls are placed in a container with fresh jasmine flowers, which infuse the tea leaves with their fragrance. This process can take several hours, and the tea pearls may be infused with the jasmine flowers multiple times to achieve the desired level of fragrance.
The result is a highly aromatic tea with a delicate, floral flavor, a subtle sweetness, and a lingering jasmine aftertaste.
The spiral shape is achieved by rolling the tea leaves into tight spirals. This shape is common in many types of Chinese green teas, including Bi Luo Chun and Lu Shan Yun Wu. The spiral shape gives the tea a fresh and floral aroma, allowing it to be brewed multiple times without losing its flavor. Spiral-shaped tea leaves are tightly rolled into small, twisted shapes.
The spiral shape of the leaves allows for a smooth and balanced flavor and allows the tea to be brewed multiple times without losing its flavor.
Bi Luo Chun is a Chinese green tea known for its spiral leaves. It is grown in the Dongting Mountains in Jiangsu province and has a delicate and floral flavor. Bi Luo Chun is often described as having a sweet and fruity aroma and is a favorite among tea enthusiasts.
* a close-up of Bi Luo Chun's fuzzy spirals
Lu Shan Yun Wu is another Chinese green tea with spiral-shaped leaves. It grows in the Lu Shan Mountains in Jiangxi province and has a light and refreshing flavor. Lu Shan Yun Wu is often described as having a floral and nutty taste, with a slightly sweet aftertaste, and is a favorite among tea connoisseurs.
Twisted-shaped tea leaves are tightly rolled into thin, elongated shapes, and they are common in Chinese green teas such as Huangshan Maofeng. The twisted shape of the leaves allows for a more robust and full-bodied flavor.
Huangshan Maofeng is a Chinese green tea with twisted-shaped leaves. It grows in the Yellow Mountain area in Anhui province and has a strong and nutty flavor. Huangshan Maofeng is known for its slightly sweet aftertaste with a smooth and mellow finish.
Loose Leaf Green tea types - conclusion
Chinese green tea comes in a variety of shapes and flavors, and each type has its unique taste and aroma. Whether you prefer a tea with flat and straight leaves or balled leaves, there is a Chinese green tea that is perfect for you. So why not try a cup of Chinese green tea today and experience its unique taste and aroma for yourself?