The Green Tea of China – Part 2

Posted by Boyka Mihaylova on

In the previous blogpost, we started exploring the most prominent areas that produce the best green tea of China. We witnessed the balance between production volume output and the distinctive local craftsmanship and cultural heritage that shaped some of China's signature loose-leaf green tea's image to the world. Today, we continue with the two other major green tea production clusters—the Central and Western belts. Both belts comprise three provinces each, accounting for about two-thirds of the total green tea output volume on the mainland.


Western Belt – the Hidden Dominator 

The Western belt, comprising Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan provinces, produces bolder, earthier green teas. The cooler, mountainous terrain in regions like Yunnan fosters the development of green teas with more pronounced flavors, setting them apart from teas produced in the eastern and central belts. Sichuan is China's top green tea producer, followed closely by Guizhou – these two provinces alone account for almost 1/3 of China's total production volume of green tea. All of the provinces are literally steeped in millennial of tea cultivation and processing history. These provinces are mostly rural, with lower living standards and an emphasis on agriculture. The government's efforts towards rural development and the availability of vast land areas allow for mass production at a lower cost than the over-urbanized Eastern provinces, where land becomes scarcer, and the cost of living rises by the year. As a result, a huge part of the tea produced in the Western (and Central) belts, is imported into, processed, packed, and exported from provinces in the Eastern belt, whose economic connections and marketing appeal to the Western world is much more established. Nevertheless, the uninterrupted heritage of tea craftsmanship and a variety of local cultivars have given those provinces some remarkable types of green tea of China. Let's have a look.


Guizhou – The Underestimated Contestant

For the Western tea lover, the name of Guizhou province might not exactly ring a bell. However, tea was present in this area probably before anywhere else. The modern day's theory of the origin of the tea plant points to the GuiYun Kaoyuan – the mountainous plateau stretching between Yunnan, Guizhou, and Sichuan – as the birthplace of the Camellia Sinensis species. At around seven mln years old, the world's oldest tea fossil has also been excavated in Guizhou. The green tea of Guizhou has an honorable mention by Lu Yu himself. In his "Tea Classics," he says that green tea "in central Guizhou is often found in Sizhou, Bozhou, Feizhou, Yizhou... and its taste is excellent". 

Tea has become a reliable crop and a main tool for alleviating poverty and sustaining rural revitalization. Moreover, the local authorities heavily emphasize organic, ecologically sustainable production by encouraging green practices such as replacing pesticides and insecticides with certain plants and bacteria that fight off weeds and insects while controlling the soil content and serving as natural fertilizers. 


chinese green tea

* high mountain green tea plantation in Guizhou, China


As of 2021, all green tea produced in Guizhou has been declared a PDO product. Probably the most notable example among Guizhou's Chinese green teas is the Du Yun Mao Jian (都匀毛尖) –one of China's Top 10 famous teas, personally named by Mao Zedong himself (probably among the reasons it ended up on that list :). Its tight and curly, emerald green buds with fine fuzz produce a tea soup with a bold, refreshing taste. 

Guizhou is known for producing green teas that are particularly rich in selenium. It is probably because of the soil's specific composition. Several local varieties are particularly rich in this essential mineral. Namely, the Lei Gong Shan Silver Ball tea (雷公山银球茶) contains 15 times more selenium than ordinary green tea.  

Yunnan – Not Just Your Pu-erh Cup Of Tea 

Yunnan is universally hailed as a post-fermented tea realm. But there's more to it than just Pu-erh. In fact, the province's green tea output surpasses its production of Hei Cha by almost a third, making it the third province to produce green teas of China by total output volume. The province's green teas include Yunnan Green, or Dian Qing (滇青), made from the local big leaf tree variety. Dian Qing is often used as a raw material to produce Pu-erh. 

Other Yunnan green tea varieties include Mojiang Cloud Needle (墨江云针) – a sun-dried green tea produced by the Hani ethnic minority in Mojiang; Yun Long Green (云龙绿茶), a curly shape green tea, that has an age-long history of production; the bold and stimulating Xue Long Green Tea (雪龙绿茶) with a sweet, creamy aftertaste, and Bao Shan Mo Guo (保山磨锅) – a green tea with distinctive processing, produced from Baoshan to Dali. 


Sichuan – China's Green Tea Basket

Another cradle of tea culture, a historical record, mentions tea cultivation in Sichuan Province more than 4000 years ago. The province has been an important part of the Tea-Horse Caravan Road, and its tea production caters to both domestic and international demand. Today's Sichuan is part of the "Golden belt" and pro0duces some outstanding green teas. The Meng Ding Gan Lu (蒙顶甘露) is an artisanal green tea with a noble, delicate aroma and a taste full of fresh umami. The highest grade of this tea is produced entirely by hand, with farmers usually reserving the best spring harvest for its production. Another worthy representator is the Zhu Ye Qing (竹叶青), a flat-shaped stir-fried green tea produced in and around Emei Mountain. Its flat and straight buds in tender green produce a clear yellow-green tea soup with a pure and refreshing taste and sweet aftertaste.


loose leaf green tea

 *sprouting tea in early Spring, near Ya'an, Sichuan


The Central Belt – Humble Beginnings With a Bright Prospect

The Central belt includes Hunan, Hubei, and Shaanxi provinces, where the climate varies enough to produce robust and fuller-bodied green teas. The significant temperature shifts between day and night in these provinces slow the growth of the tea plants, enhancing the depth of flavor in the teas. While its overall green tea output is a little over 20% combined, the authorities put great effort in introducing tea as a viable industry for the economic development of these provinces. In recent years, the growth of new tea plants in the area has surpassed that of all the other provinces, so the future of tea production seems bright.


Hunan – Beyond Tea Brick

The history of tea production in Hunan can be traced back to the early Western Han Dynasty over 2,000 years ago. Hunan is among China's earliest provinces with records of man-made tea tree cultivation. During the Tang Dynasty, Hunan produced a yearly supply of 120,000 kg of tribute tea for the Palace. Although it is mostly known for its Hei Cha, specifically the tea brick produced in Anhua, some of the green tea of China also hails from there. Anhua Pine Needle (安化松针) is a well-known semi-roasted green tea from Anhua with a rich aroma and sweet, fresh taste. Gu Zhang Mao Jian (古丈毛尖), a stir-fried green tea produced in Guzhang County, is another famous green tea from Hunan with intensive aroma and refreshing taste.


Hunan is the second province that produces yellow tea after Anhui. The Jun Shan Yin Zhen (君山银针) from there is among the Top ten famous Chinese teas and a signature yellow tea.


Hubei – a Powerful Contender  

Hubei has a long history of tea culture and an age-long connection with Chinese tea culture. Hailed as the birthplace of Lu Yu, the province has also been an important point in the ancient road of tea. But Hubei doesn't rely solely on past glory. Taking full advantage of its geographical location within the Golden Belt (along with Sichuan and Zhejiang), it prioritizes the development of tea planting land area and the mass growing of new tea plants – so much so that in the past few years it managed almost to double its yield and briefly becoming the third largest tea-producing province in China. Although today it ranks third after Yunnan, the ever-expanding tea industry in the region makes the future seem bright.

Hubei produces a variety of teas, including dark tea, green tea, and even black tea. En Shi Yu Lu (恩施玉露) is its most famous green tea and the only steam-dried green tea commercially produced in China. It is a "living fossil" that alludes to the times of the Song dynasty when this was the predominant way of green tea production. 


Shaanxi – Rooted in History, Facing the Future

Shaanxi is among the less-known Chinese provinces that have nevertheless carried the uninterrupted presence of the Chinese tea culture from ancient times till today. From the Shang and Zhou dynasties more than 3000 years ago, through the hosting of the empire capital period (from Qin to Tang dynasties) down to modern days, the timeline of Shaanxi tea runs pierces through the entire timeline of Chinese history. Nowadays, Shaanxi has the unique advantage of high environmental protection standards as a core water conservation area. It contributes to a cleaner environment without major pollutants and guarantees the sustainable development of the tea industry. 


Like Guizhou, Shaanxi tea is rich in selenium due to the unique composition of the local soils. The soil of Ziyang area has a selenium content of up to 5.66-32.06ppm.


Shaanxi's green tea comes mostly from the southern part of the province. The remote location of the tea gardens from industrial areas, the moderate temperatures, and the rich organic soil contribute to the excellent quality of the tea produced. Zi Yang Mao Jian (紫阳毛尖) is a green tea from the mountain valley area of ​​Ziyang County, whose production dates back to the Tang dynasty when it was produced as a tribute tea. It is characterized by tight, plump, and even tea leaves with a tender and lasting fragrance and fresh and mellow taste. Ba Xian Cloud tea (八仙云雾) is another green tea from Shaanxi that takes its name from the misty mountain slopes of the Baxian district.


Honorable Mentions: Jiangxi and Jiangsu

Although they fall behind in production volume, we can't omit those two provinces from our green tea from China list. Jiangxi is the home of Lu Shan Cloud Tea (庐山云雾) – a curled emerald-green tea originating as early as the Han Dynasty. Due to the cool and misty climate of Lushan Mountain, its leaves produce a mellow and sweet soup and are fairly resistant to brewing. As for Jiangsu, it is the home of the beloved Bi Luo Chun (碧螺春), one of the top ten famous teas in China with a history of more than 1000 years. High-quality Biluochun has delicate tea buds – ½ kilogram of dry tea requires 60 to 70 000 tea buds! It's due to an alternate planting alongside fruit orchards of peach, plum, apricot, and persimmon, from which it allegedly absorbs the aroma.


cloud tea

* tea plantation in Lushan, Jiangxi 


That concludes our tour of the most significant producing areas for Green Tea of China. We roamed far and wide, tasting iconic and less-known green tea types, that are equally impressive for the tea lover's palate. Which ones have you tried for yourself? And which are your favorites?