Chinese Tea Growing Areas: The best in China
In this new Chinese year of the tiger now is a good time to better appreciate those Chinese tea growing areas responsible for producing some of their unique teas. Chinese tea growing areas are the principle means of classifying Chinese teas. Sometimes a legend is quoted such as Tie Guan Yin or Long Jing, sometimes a sponsoring Emperor is use to name a tea such as Pi Lo Chun.
The best tea growing areas of China are in the south-east and comprise Zhejiang, Fujian and Anhui provinces. These coastal areas have a moist climate and feature several mountain ranges. To this area can be added Yunnan Province in the south-west. In addition are two tea growing areas either side of the Yangzi Jiang River.
Whilst terroir is important it should also be recognised that local differences in the means and styles of manufacture can play a vital part in creating the character of a tea for which an area is known. So too is the time and weather conditions prevalent at the time of picking. There are also over three hundred varieties of tea plant although these are being commercially channelled into developing twenty-two cultivars cultivated for their suitability for particular styles of tea in China. Examples would be Fuding da Bai, perfect for white teas and Long Jing 43, ideal for high quality green teas.
Tea from South-East China
The south-east region includes Guangdong, Guangxi, and Fujian provinces. More famous teas originate from this region than any other. They include Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy oolong), Baihao Zinzhen (White Needle) and Da Hong Pao (Royal Red Robe oolong). Except in the north of Fujian, this is a warm region with high rainfall and mixed clay soils.
The stunningly beautiful Wuyi Shan mountains of Fujian Province are home to oolong teas such as Tie Guan Yin, originating from around the town of Anxi.
Tea from South-West China
The South-west region includes Yunnan, Sichuan and Guizhou provinces. This area is mild, sub-topical with seasons of heavy rainfall. The tea bush, or tree if it is allowed to grown wild, is indigenous to Yunnan. This province is temperate and moist with hot summers and mild winters. The rich, red soils have a high mineral content and are rich in organic matter which is ideal for tea cultivation. The region is best known for its black and aged, Pu-erh teas. Dian Hong Gong Fu black tea is particularly celebrated.
Sichuan province lies to the north of Yunnan Province. To the west, along the Yangtse river, is the mountainous home of the martial Ba people whose ancient wooden coffins can still be found logged in cliff crevices several hundred feet above ground. They worshipped the tiger and hunted with rhinoceros. They also have the distinction of being the earliest recorded consumers of tea. A contract for the purchase of a slave in 59 BC makes reference to his duties as including the ‘boiling of tea’.
Tea from south of the Yangzi Jiang river
This region includes provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangxi and the south of Anhui. Many gardens are on hillsides at high altitude. These areas have well-drained soils and good levels of sunlight. Zhejiang, on the coast has rich mineral soils, mainly produces green teas such as the famous Long Jing and An Ji Bai, grown in the mountains. High-volume teas such as Gunpowder are grown on the coastal plains.
The high mountains of the Huang Shan produce superb teas such as Hunan Shan Mao Feng. This is a temperate area with soils rich in iron and vegetative matter.
The best known black teas from Zhejiang Province come from around the town of Qimen, producing Keemun teas, as they are known in the West. Tai Ping Hou Kui green tea also originates from this area.
Tea from north of the Yangzi Jiang river
This is the coldest of the Chinese tea growing areas and it is also the newest to tea cultivation. The region comprises the provinces of Henan, Shaanxi, Gansu and Shandong plus the northern parts of Anhui, Jiangsu and Hubei provinces. Climate is cool with average temperatures around 12 C and below freezing in winter. Rainfall is fairly low and soils can be poor. Mountainous areas produce some good teas such as the famous Lu An Gu Pian.
As you may realise from the above account, there are very few provinces in China that do not grow tea and most of these are in the arid north, bordering Mongolia. The many that do, especially those in the four regions identified in this article, cultivate tea that demonstrates huge variety in the styles and characters of the teas they produce.
See our introductory page for Chinese teas.