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Around the World with Tea: CHINA


To celebrate the launch of Time for Tea, we're setting off on our own little odyssey through the history of the world's most popular drink as part of our 'Around the World' series. And where better to start our adventure than in ancient China, the birthplace of tea and home to the largest tea-drinking population on the planet.


From its fabled origins as the creation of a wise and powerful emperor to the Buddhist monks that helped spread this glorious brew across Asia, there are a huge range of styles and varieties of tea in China, from the super-strong Tibetan yak butter tea in the west, via the pu’er of Yunnan down south, to the eastern regions of Fujian (where you’ll find whites, jasmines and Lapsang Souchongs), and the famed green teas of Zhejiang. From the soft, delicate, apricot-scented purity of Fuding Silver Needle, to the rich, smoky allure of Lapsang Souchong, China is a tea lover’s paradise.  


Enjoy this excerpt from Time for Tea, written by Tom Parker-Bowles, with illustrations by Zebedee Helm and photography by David Loftus.  



The climate and terrain are variable in this north-eastern region, with Keemun from Qimen County being particularly sought after. It’s slow-withered and oxidised, a black tea with complex aromatic character and a hazelnut sweetness. 


Nestling on the south-east coast of China, Fujian’s tea-growing area is high-altitude, misty and very mountainous, not unlike Darjeeling in India. It has a subtropical climate, with distinct wet and dry seasons, although you will find year-round rain. The landscape is stunning, with neat tea gardens dotted among the soaring granite peaks and rock-scattered soil. Even though the gardens may be only a few hundred metres apart, and all planted with the same tea, the flavours can differ substantially. Terroir at its best.


The styles take in all sorts, from the perfumed lightness of Fuding Silver Needle, to the toasted, floral-crisp, semi-oxidised oolong Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy), to the mighty, pine-smoked black tea Lapsang Souchong.  


Deep in China’s south-west, and bordering Tibet, Vietnam, Myanmar and Laos, the tea gardens in this tropical, hugely humid climate (Yunnan means ‘south of the clouds’) can be found in mountainous terrain, blanketed with thick forest and watered by the mighty Mekong river. You’ll find pu’er here, both fresh and aged, which comes from the eponymous town. Yunnan’s regular black teas are rich and mahogany-coloured with a deep oiled-leather character.



This is the home of the famous Dragon Well (Long Jing) green tea, which comes from the West Lake (Xihu) region near Hangzhou city. The leaves are pressed into the pan while drying, creating a flat spear shape with a fresh toasty character.