Tea Plant Varietals


The border area of Yunnan, Northern Vietnam, Northern Laos, Northern Burma and Assam forms the original provenance region of the tea plant. Everywhere in this region there are old tea trees. The varietal of these old tea trees is called QiaoMu DaYeZhong (HighTree BigLeafVarietal). The tea plant varietals bred from the cuttings of Qiaomu Dayezhong plants are called DaYeZhong (BigLeafVarietal), which entered western scientific literature as camellia sinensis var. assamica.

From this original area of growth the tea plant was spread by man throughout southern China. Tea is cultivated almost everywhere south of Changjiang (Yangtse) river. Most tea plantations exist at least since the Tang-dynasty, i.e. 618-906. It was probably in 810 that a Buddhist monk brought tea seeds to Japan and in the beginning of the 19th century the British and the Dutch brought tea plants to their colonies in Dutch-India (Indonesia) and British-India (there especially to Assam and Darjeeling). Later, tea was introduced to colonies in Africa and is nowadays even cultivated in South America.

For a very long time, tea plants for new plantations were grown from seeds, i.e. by natural reproduction, which led to the emergence of many varietals over the centuries. Certainly cultivators tried to influence natural crossing and breeding, just as we did e.g. with cereals in Europe. This is how the many tea plant varietals developed over time, small-leaved and adapted to the specific local climate. These varietals were later described collectively as camellia sinensis var. sinensis and also brought to Darjeeling, as the climate there was not right for the plants from Assam. It is a very recent development that most tea plants are reproduced exclusively in vegetative ways, i.e. grown from cuttings. In this way, all plants for a specific kind of tea are always genetically identical, which gives a typical individual taste to every tea.

Of course, there is not only ONE varietal of the Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, but an innumerable number of them. They have adjusted to the local climate and circumstances and/or have been bred to fulfil specific criteria. In China, these varieties are grouped under the name "Xiaoyezhong" (small leaf variety). The individual varieties carry a specific name, for example ZhuYeZhong in Qimen, FuYunZhong in Tanyang (these are bred varieties that often also have numbers in their designation) or they are simply called BenDi QunTi XiaoYeZhong (local colony small leaf variety), or they are named after the place or province they come from, e.g. Sichuan XiaoYeZhong. These are varieties that have grown naturally and of a certain degree of similarity. Nowadays these are also reproduced vegetatively; this in order to maintain a specific variety.

The varietals grown in Japan and Korea are also local varietals or bred ones of the Camellia sinensis var. sinensis.

There also exist various varieties of the Camellia sinensis var. assamica, and besides, some varieties result from a crossbreed of the varieties assamica and sinensis; particularly in India. Hence one generally speaks of Hybrids or clonals instead of varieties. In China the var. assamica is named DaYeZhong and is mostly grown in Yunnan, or is found there naturally as old tea trees. One considerable problem of the nomenclature comes from the fact that continued breeding of local Xiaoyezhong (small leaf varieties) with somewhat larger leaves are called "Dayezhong" (large leaf variety), despite the fact that they are in fact of the variety sinensis. Hence the term Dayezhong does not always refer to the var. assamica.

Furthermore one differentiates between different groups of tea plant varieties within the Camellia sinensis var. sinensis: on the one hand the Dabai-varieties, then the Zhongyezhong and within this category particularly the Oolong-tea varieties.


1 The varietals for white, green, black and Pu Er tea

Da Ye Zhong
Xiao Ye Zhong
Da Bai
Zhong Ye Zhong

2 The classical varietals for Oolong

Da Hong Pao, Tie Luo Han, Bai Ji Guan und Shui Jin Gui
Tie Guan Yin, Huang Dan, Mao Xie, Ben Shan, Mei Zhan, Rou Gui
Shui Xian
Qing Xin Wu Long, Ruan Zhi Wu Long

3 Newly bred varietals for Oolong and some ancient and little-known cultivars

Jin Xuan, Cui Yu, Hong Yu, Si Ji Chun, Qing Xin Gan Zhong, Huang Gan, Da Man Zhong
Fo Shou, Qi Lan, Ban Tian Yao, Wu Yi Zhong, Ai Jiao Wu LongJin Guan Yin, Huang Guan Yin, Jin Mu Dang