Tea has been produced in China for thousands of years and is grown in eighteen of the twenty-two provinces of China. This rich tradition and geographic diversity has created a cornucopia of tea varieties. The phrase "Chinese Tea" is almost meaningless because there are so many types and variations of Chinese tea.
Nevertheless Chinese tea can be divided into five main types. The variations on each of these types arise from the region they are grown, the varietal of tea plant, and the method of processing the raw tea leaves.
Chinese Green Tea
Green tea is made from a tea varietal that maintains the original color of the tea leaves during processing. Green tea is classified as an "unfermented" (more accurately "un-oxidized") tea because the leaves are fried or steamed shortly after picking to prevent them from oxidizing. It is the least processed of all Chinese teas and so has the longest tradition. Chinese green tea includes Longjing tea of Zhejiang Province, Maofeng of Huangshan Mountain in Anhui Province and Biluochun of Jiangsu Province.
Chinese Red Tea
The type of tea known as "black tea" in Western countries is called "red tea" (hong cha) in China. Red tea is a fully fermented (oxidized) tea. It became the most popular type of Chinese tea in the west because it held up better to sea transport than green tea. Chinese red tea includes Qihong of Anhui Province, Dianhong of Yunnan Province , Suhong of Jiangsu Province, Chuanhong of Sichuan Province and Huhong of Hunan Province.
Chinese Oolong Tea
Oolong tea is a partially oxidized tea so it has properties of both green and black tea. It originates in the mountains of Fujian Province and is also grown in Guangdong Province. As Chinese emmigrants arrived in Taiwan (which is just across the Taiwan Straight from Fujian province) they brought tea plants and oolong tea production techniques. Now some of the world's finest oolong tea comes from Taiwan.
Chinese Compressed Tea
As an early trade commodity, tea was compressed and hardened to make it better suited for transport and storage. Compressed tea is also known as "black tea" (because of its dark color) or "brick tea" (because of its shape). The most famous of the compressed teas is Pu Erh tea from Yunnan province which is the only tea which improves with age. Compressed tea is also produced in Hubei, Hunan, and Sichuan provinces.
Chinese Scented Tea
Tea is sometimes scented by mixing fragrant flowers with the tea leaves while they are being processed. The most famous scented tea is Jasmine tea but other types of flowers such as magnolia and rose can also be used. Scented tea is produced in most of the 18 tea provinces of China.