The Terroir Difference: 12 Famous Chinese Teas

The Terroir Difference: 12 Famous Chinese Teas

Michele Lillie

China is the birthplace of tea and is still a major producer of this beloved beverage. As we continue our exploration of the concept of terroir and tea, let us look at the terroir of China. If you haven’t read our prior post explaining terroir, we encourage you to read that post first.


Tea loves a “complex” environment with wide changes in temperature throughout the day, changing skies with both clouds and sun and higher elevations. Because it is more challenging to thrive in this environment, chemical changes occur, leading to more complex flavors.


Photo of green tea plantation with Chinese workers in front picking tea

Although an area’s total terroir greatly influences a tea’s flavor and can even vary within regions, some generalities can be made. Tea plants growing in more sunlight tend to be bolder in flavor and somewhat more bitter. This is because the plants grow more quickly in this environment and do not develop the more complex and mature flavors found in teas from plants that grow more slowly. Slower growth happens in areas with colder climates and those at higher altitudes. This results in a tea that is sweeter and more nuanced in flavor.


Other plants growing in the area are also part of terroir. The presence of flowers might lead to floral notes in the tea. Other plants, such as pine and mushrooms, can also have an influence. This often happens with wild-growing tea trees/shrubs as they grow adjacent to other plants.


China is a vast country, about 3.7 million square miles. It should be no surprise that the terroir will vary from region to region. China’s tea-growing areas are divided by geography. Each of these large regions contains several different tea-growing areas. We will explore just some of the major tea-producing regions and the famous teas that are grown in those areas.


Yunnan province

Location – Yunnan is found in southwestern China. Yunnan is considered the birthplace of tea and, to this day, is regarded as China's most famous tea-growing region.

Terroir – It is a mountainous area with elevations that vary by more than 10,000 feet. Due to this varied terrain, the climate is diverse. It can range from an almost tropical environment to a subtropical climate with cooler and drier winters. Its soil is rich, red and abundant in minerals. This results in an earthy and robust tea. The altitude is significant as it brings cooler temperatures that slow the plant's growth and intensify flavor.

Teas - The most famous tea from this area is Pu-erh, although it is also very well known for its production of black teas, such as Dian Hong (Yunnan Golden Tips). These teas are complex and earthy.


Fujian province

Panorama of Wuyi Mountains in China
Location - Lying along the southeastern coast, this province is famous for the Wuyi mountains and Anxi county.

Terroir -- Tea plants in this area do not grow in neat rows but around gorges, cliffs and caves. The soil is rocky, and the rocky ledges protect the plants from wind and extreme weather. They are sheltered from much of the harsh sunlight. The mists and fogs that settle there keep the plants well hydrated. The cliffs and rocky soil absorb the ambient heat throughout the day and slowly release it during the evenings, thus leading to less drastic temperature changes. The water is supplied from waterfalls and is rich with minerals due to the volcanic rocks. The terroir of this region often produces teas with a natural sweetness, floral notes and a touch of minerality.

Teas -- The Wuyi mountain area and Anxi county are important for producing oolong teas. Some of the most famous oolongs, Da Hong Pao (Big Red Robe) from the Wuyi area and Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) from Anxi county, come from tea plants grown here.

Oolongs are not the only tea that hail from Fujian. The soil is rich with organic matter, ideal for growing excellent white teas. This area is where white tea originated and where most of the world’s supply of white tea comes from. One example is Bai Hao Yin Zhen (Silver Needles.)

Even popular black teas are made from the leaves of tea plants from Fujian. These include the smoky Lapsang Souchong and Tan Yang Gong Fu (Panyang Congou).


Zhejiang province

Photo of Longjing tea fieldsLocation - This eastern coastal province is mainly known for producing green teas.

Terroir - It has a moist, subtropical climate and mineral-rich soil. Most of this province is hilly, but the northern part is more level plains. Higher quality teas are grown in the mountainous areas, while more generic teas come from the plains. Teas grown in this province are often sweet and nutty, with a velvety smoothness.

Teas - One of the most famous teas grown here is Long Jing (Dragon Well) green tea. Another classic green tea is Gunpowder, whose name comes from the fact that the leaves are rolled into small pellets.


Anhui province

Location – This is one of China’s smallest provinces located in eastern China.
Terroir - It has a temperate climate with red soil rich in humus and iron. This produces teas with a delicate sweetness coupled with fruity and floral undertones.
Teas – This province is well known for green teas, including high-quality Mao Feng teas. However, in the late 1800s, it began producing a famous black tea, Keemun.

Henan Province

Location - In the central part of the country is the Henan province.
Terroir - It is mountainous in parts but also has flatter regions. It has a mild climate since it is located between the subtropical zone and the temperate zone.
Teas - One of China’s famous teas comes from this area - Xin Yang Mao Jian.


Guangxi province

Location - Guangxi is a southern province that borders Vietnam and the Gulf of Tonkin.
Terroir – Large parts of this province are hilly and mountainous. Its climate is subtropical, with abundant rainfall.
Teas – Although this province produces other teas, it is known for Jasmine and Osmanthus tea. Those flowers are part of the terroir as they are native to this region.


What Does This Mean for the Average Tea Drinker?

For the beginning tea drinker, understanding terroir can help you make more informed choices. If you prefer lighter, floral notes, perhaps start with teas from Fujian. Yunnan teas could be your go-to if you're drawn to bold flavors.

For the tea enthusiast, diving into terroirs allows you to fine-tune your palate and deepen your appreciation for tea. You can even explore teas from the same region but harvested in different seasons to uncover how terroir is a dynamic, ever-changing influence.

In Conclusion

The terroirs of China offer a wondrous tapestry of flavors and aromas. We hope this journey inspires you to explore these regions through the transformative power of tea. So, the next time you sip on that delightful brew, take a moment to ponder the landscapes and elements that contributed to its unique character.


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