China is to tea what France is to wine. The tea bush Camelia sinensis—meaning Chinese varietal— is named in honor of tea’s ancient country of origin. The varieties of teas coming from this country are countless with some estimates reaching eight to ten thousand.
With such a vast array of teas grown and produced in 16 different regions, China is the world’s largest tea producer and the source of all the tea thrown overboard in Boston in 1773. While Sri Lanka and Kenya with their giant tea estates export more leaf tonnage, China still supplies 18 percent of world tea exports.
Tea bushes growing in the high altitudes of many Chinese mountainous regions stop growing during the cold winter months and start to flush again with new growth in the early spring. The harvest season in China runs from March to late September and the best teas are made from leaf buds and leaves that are gathered in the spring from high mountain areas.
The names by which different Chinese teas are sold can be confusing. Names may give information about the garden where the tea grew, the time of year when the leaves were picked, the village or province of origin, the method of manufacture, added flavors or perhaps a legendary name.