Taiwan Tea Varietals

All types of tea – green tea, oolong tea, black tea – come from the tea plant, Camellia sinensis. The differences between these three classes of tea comes from the way the tea is processed after the leaves are picked. Green tea is an unoxidized tea, oolong tea is partially oxidized and black tea is fully oxidized.

Oxidation is a natural process which causes vegetation to turn dark after it is picked. Green tea is produced by steaming the tea leaves shortly after they are picked. Steaming halts the oxidation process, resulting in dried tea leaves which retain their bright green color.

Oolong tea is a partially oxidized. After picking, the tea leaves are tossed in large bamboo baskets to bruise them slightly. Afterwards, they are exposed to the air for several hours which begins the oxidation process. Oxidation is halted by pan roasting the leaves.


Camellia sinensis is the species which produces all types of tea, but within that species there are plenty of varieties (or cultivars or varietals).

The marvellous plant which produces all the world’s tea has more than 3000 hybrids. These are referred to as varietals – a term borrowed from the world of wine grape cultivation.

Tea varietals are developed with an aim to producing a particular type of tea in a particular locale. Varietals suited for the production of Indian black tea, for example, do not necessarily make a good Japanese green tea.

Taiwan Varietals

Taiwan has been producing oolong tea for about 200 years. During that time tea farmers and scientists have developed varietals which are well-suited to oolong tea production in the climate and soils of Taiwan.

Some of the most common Taiwan varietals are:

Qing Xin Oolong (Green Heart) – Originates in Taiwan. At one time Qing Xin was used in 40% of Taiwan’s tea plantations. It is a small dense tea bush and the leaves have pronounced veins. It is used for Oolong tea and Bao Zhong tea. It is more prone to disease than other Taiwan varietals.

Qing Xing Da You – Another Taiwan varietal that is more popular than Qing Xin Oolong. Tea farmers favor Da You because of its greater leaf production and low maintenance. Da You is a short tea bush that is disease-resistant. The leaves are oval-shaped with a blunt tip and serrated edges. They have a large central vein with less-obvious side veins. This varietal is suited to Bao Zhong and Oolong teas.

Taiwan #12 – Also known as Jin Xuan. This varietal has light-green, oval-shaped leaves which are bigger than Qing Xin or Da You. It is resistant to a wide variety of diseases and pests, and produces a greater yield than other varietals. It has a fragrant taste profile which is suitable for both Bao Zhong and Oolong teas.

Cui Yu Tea Varietal
Cui Yu Tea Varietal (Taiwan #13)

Taiwan #13 – Also known as Cui Yu (Green Jade). Originates in Taiwan. Grows as a loosely-formed bush which is suitable for hand-harvesting. Has a slightly lower growth rate than Taiwan #12 but with a very desirable floral aroma and taste.

Oolong Tea Pronunciation Guide

With Audio

This is a rough-and-ready Mandarin pronunciation guide for Taiwanese and Chinese tea. The American English pronunciations use real words whenever possible, and hyphenated spellings are said with a continuous sound (she-ong = sheeyong). The pinyin includes tone marks which are an integral part of the pronunciation. Without the proper tones a native Mandarin speaker is not likely to understand these words.

For those who want to plunge right in, here is the list. A detailed explanation can be found at the bottom of this page.

Teas listed on this web site:

Chinese Characters Pinyin Wade-Giles American English
wu1 long2 cha2 wu lung ch’a oo long cha
Oolong Tea (烏龍茶) audio pronunciation

long2 feng4 xia2 lung feng hsia long fung shee-a
Long Feng Xia (龍鳳峽) audio pronunciation

wu3 ling2 wu ling oo ling
Wu Ling (武陵) audio pronunciation

dong4 ding3 mi4 xiang1 tung ting ming xiang dong ding mee she-ong
Dong Ding Ming Xiang (凍頂蜜香) audio pronunciation

sha1 lin2 qi1 sha lin ch’i shaw lean chee
Shan Ling Xi (杉林溪) audio pronunciation

zhang1 shu4 hu2 chang shu hu jong shoe who
Zhong Shu Hu (樟樹湖) audio pronunciation

cui4 luan2 ts’ui luan tsway loo-ann
Tsuei Luan (翠巒) audio pronunciation

shi2 zhuo1 shih cho shh dz-woe
Shi Zuo (石棹) audio pronunciation

si4 ji4 szu chi sih jee
Four Season (四季) audio pronunciation

chen2 nian2 lao3 cha2 wang2 ch’en nien lao ch’a wang chen nee-ann l-how cha wong
Aged Tea (陳年老茶) audio pronunciation

bai2 hao2 pai hao buy how
Bai Hao (白毫) audio pronunciation

bao1 zhong3 pao chung b-how jong
Bao Zhong (包種) audio pronunciation

Other Taiwanese and Chinese teas:

Chinese Characters Pinyin Wade-Giles American English
tie3 guan1 yin1 t’ieh kuan yin tea-ay gwan yin
long2 jing3 lung ching long jing
shui3 jin1 gui1 shui chin kui sh-way jeen g-way
rou4 gui4 jou kui row g-way
pu3 er3 p’u erh poo er
huang2 guan1 yin1 huang kuan yin hwong gwan yin
bai2 mu3 dan1 pai mu tan buy moo dan

Pinyin pronunciation table:


1 high and level
2 rising from mid-pitch to the level of tone 1
3 falling and rising
4 falling sharply
5 neutral tone


a similar to the ‘ah’ of ‘hah’ ang a Mandarin ‘a’ followed by ‘ng’
e similar to the ‘er’ of ‘her’ eng a Mandarin ‘e’ followed by ‘ng’
i similar to the ‘ee’ of ‘bee’ er a Mandarin ‘e’ with the tongue curled back
o similar to ‘or’ en similar to the ‘un’ of ‘fun’
u similar to the ‘u’ of ‘flute’ ei similar to the ‘ei’ of ‘weigh’
ai similar to the ‘ai’ of ‘aisle’ ou similar to the ‘ou’ of ‘dough’
ao similar to the ‘au’ of ‘sauerkraut’ ye/ie similar to a short ‘yeah’
an similar to the ‘an’ of ‘ban’ yu/u as in the French ‘u’ of ‘la lune’


m, f, ch, sh same as English q as in the ‘ch’ of ‘cheese’ – tongue tip is held down
b, d, n, g, s, w, y similar to English x as in the ‘sh’ of ‘ship’ – tongue tip is held down
p, t, k similar to English but with more aspiration zh as in the ‘j’ of ‘jam’ – tongue is curled back
l similar to the ‘l’ in ‘health’ r as in ‘s’ of ‘pleasure’
h similar to English but slightly guttural z as in the ‘ds’ of ‘woods’
j as in the ‘j’ of ‘jungle’ – tongue tip is held down c as in the ‘ts’ of ‘hurts’


There are several systems of Romanization for Chinese characters. The two most common are Pinyin (the official Romanization of Mainland China) and Wade-Giles. Taiwan uses a modified Wade-Giles system that does not include apostrophes. So instead of T’aipei the capital of Taiwan is written Taipei.

What difference does an apostrophe make? In the Wade-Giles system, a ‘t’ without an apostrophe should be pronounced as ‘d’, and a ‘p’ without an apostrophe should be pronounced ‘b’, and a ‘k’ without an apostrophe should be pronounced ‘g’.

This creates all sorts of confusion for western speakers. For many years Wade-Giles was the standard for converting Chinese characters to western spellings, so we had such spellings as Peking for Beijing, taoism for daoism and tofu for dofu.

This confusion extends to the world of tea. Neither Pinyin nor Wade-Giles reflects the popular spelling Oolong. This particular spelling is not found in any of the common Romanization systems, so is probably a simple popularization (like chow mein).

In an ideal world there would be just one system of Romanization that is applied universally. Unfortunately, Romanization has become a political issue in Taiwan because legislators are reluctant to adopt Mainland Chinese standards. It could also be argued that the use of Wade-Giles upholds tradition since it has a much longer history than Hanyu Pinyin.

Talk of traditional Romanization is trivial, however, compared with the much more important topic of maintaining the Chinese written language. Taiwan continues to use traditional Chinese characters whereas Mainland China has switched to a simplified writing system. These simplified characters have fewer strokes than their traditional counterparts and were developed to promote literacy. Many overseas Chinese have expressed concern that the rich heritage of the Chinese language is compromised with this simpler writing system.