Many Americans find themselves greatly enjoying the tea served in Chinese restaurants. Because China has a much richer and more active tea culture than the United States, the teas served in Chinese restaurants can tend to be a several notches up in quality from those that a typical American is used to drinking. Furthermore, for historical reasons, most of the mainstream tea in the U.S. originates in the British tradition, focusing on black teas like Ceylon, Darjeeling, Assam, and Earl Grey. The teas served in Chinese restaurants are typically quite different, and often represent some people’s first exposure to the styles and varieties that are more commonly consumed in China and throughout southeast Asia.
What types of tea are served in Chinese restaurants?
There is no single standard type of tea that is served in Chinese restaurants; rather, a number of different varieties are regularly served in this setting. In the typical mainstream American Chinese restaurants, the most common teas served are oolong and Jasmine tea. Green tea is sometimes served, as is Pu-erh. One brand of tea, Dynasty, actually markets a Chinese restaurant tea, which is a blend of oolong, jasmine, and green teas, reflecting a fusion of the different styles of tea most frequently served in Chinese restaurants.
Cantonese restaurants, such as those serving dim sum (numerous small dishes, often involving dumplings, served a la carte), and many of the restaurants common in the Chinatowns of large cities like New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, often serve Pu-erh tea, or a blend of Pu-erh with chrysanthemum flowers. In reference to this phenomenon, one brand of tea, Foojoy, sells Chrysanthemum Pu-erh under the name “Dim Sum Bo Nay Tea”.
Choosing oolong, pu-erh, jasmine, and other teas:
Although some restaurants do use tea bags, many use loose-leaf tea, and the best teas are generally only available in loose-leaf form. If you are lucky enough to live near a specialty loose-leaf tea store, or an Asian store with a good selection of loose tea, this may be a good option. However, most Americans do not have this luxury, and must resort to buying from an online retailer. Buying tea online, where you do not have the opportunity to see or smell the leaf, can be a bit intimidating if you are not familiar with the different varieties of tea. A little background information can go a long way towards knowing what to buy.
Oolong, also sometimes spelled “wu long” is a partially-oxidized tea, intermediate between green and black teas. Many oolongs served in Chinese restaurants are roasted fairly strongly, giving them a dark color and a roasted aroma. Jasmine tea is a floral-scented tea, made by mixing tea leaves (usually of green or pouchong tea) with jasmine flowers. It has a strong floral aroma, often described as perfumy. Chinese green tea is very diverse, but most of it is pan-fired, giving it a toastier quality than Japanese greens; some Chinese green tea has a mild smoky aroma, as the tea is pan-fired in woks heated by wood fires. Pu-erh tea is a post-fermented tea, meaning that it is often aged and improves with age. Pu-erh has an earthy aroma and smooth flavor which blends well with Chrysanthemum flowers.
There is no one type of tea that is universally served in Chinese restaurants in the United States; however, oolong, jasmine, Chinese green tea, and Pu-erh are common kinds that are served, with Chrysanthemum Pu-erh being especially common in Cantonese restaurants serving dim sum. The best way to purchase any of these teas is to buy them in loose-leaf form. For people not able to find them in a local shop, these varieties of tea are all available through online retailers.