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Introduction To Tea Varietals

It can be easy to forget the many ways that our environment affects us. Our pupils adjust to let in the right amount of light to our eyes. Our blood vessels change shape to keep us warmer or cooler. Across spans of generations, our ancestors have also passed on traits that made us more suited to living in certain places.

In the same way, environment affects the development of plants and animals. In the tea world, some of the more famous teas are ones associated with specific origins and the tea plants that developed in those areas. Those specific tea plants may be known as varietals.

What Is A Varietal?

Over the years, farmers began to notice that some of their plants performed better than others. Some tea plants sprouted earlier in the spring. Others were more resilient to pests. Still others had better tasting or better smelling leaves. People began to try to get more of these top performers.

And so, tea farmers could do a couple of things:

1. They could cut a clone off the tea plant. A clonal plant is one that has been clipped from a mother bush and planted. In the case of a clone, the daughter plant has the same genetic characteristics as the mother plant. While other plants changed over time, this varietal's characteristics stayed the same.

2. A farmer could pollinate plants that have desirable qualities, and then look for those beneficial traits in the offspring. Repeating this process over multiple plant generations increases the likelihood that the desirable traits become dominant traits that appear in the next generation of seed. This process produces what is called a cultivar.

With either method, these tea varietals developed in relation to soil conditions, climate, and other environmental factors of their native homes. As a result, artisanal teas with signature character are a product of specific location, specific plants, and specific processing methods.

LongJing (Dragon Well) green tea is an example of a tea that is grown in different places using different varietals. Not all of this tea necessarily deserves to be called LongJing tea. If a traditional varietal is taken from its home near Hangzhou and planted 1,200 miles (1,900 km) away in Sichuan Province, can that tea still be considered LongJing tea?

On the other hand, if a non-traditional varietal is grown in the historic LongJing production area, is it a LongJing?

In the case of LongJing tea, official standards for defining LongJing tea are not always applied or recognized. It is often up to the tea-drinking public to make their own choices of what is acceptable LongJing.

Once you become familiar with varietals and where they are grown, you will be in a better position to choose teas with the flavor profiles you prefer. This general rule applies to TieGuanYin teas and several other fine teas.

Read More:

Series of articles on differences in LongJing -

Differences between varietals, cultivars, and clones -

Chinese tea facts about Fujian teas -

Back To Tea Articles

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