What is Yunnan Tea?

N. Phipps

Yunnan has been one of the top producing tea regions for nearly two thousand years. In fact, here you will find China’s oldest wild tea tree, which is around 1700 years old. In addition, the oldest cultivated tree, a relative of the wild one, still remains. For over 800 years, this tree has been a major source of Yunnan tea products.

A cup of Yunnan tea.
A cup of Yunnan tea.

The tea may be known by other names as well, like Chinese black tea, aboriginal tea, and wild tea. Yunnan Chinese tea species are often referred to as big or large leaf tea. Due to the unique growing environment, the tea leaves in Yunnan are much larger than in other tea-growing areas. In fact, the high altitude and mountain mists are thought to protect the plants from excessive sunlight. This is believed to create ideal conditions for tea leaf and bud development.

Yunnan Jasmine tea is infused with the scent of jasmine blossoms.
Yunnan Jasmine tea is infused with the scent of jasmine blossoms.

First grown as a tribute to the emperors and named for the southern Chinese province in which it is grown, Yunnan tea was highly regarded for its unique malt and peppery taste. It would be an additional 200 years or more before the tea would find its way into the foreign exportation trade, however. Even today, the Yunnan crop remains a common Chinese export. The specialty teas can also be costly, as much of the cultivating and harvesting from the Yunnan province is still done by hand.

Yunnan tea is available in flat, disk-like cakes; compressed rectangular bricks; and loose leaf tea form. There are various types of Yunnan tea available as well, all of which include distinctive bright colors and aromas. In addition, the tea is generally classified by its color or fragrance. For instance, Green Toucha is greenish-yellow in color with a rich, smoky taste.

Yunnan Pure Gold is actually one of the province's first black teas, much darker in color. Yunnan Pu’er tea is black or brownish-red in color with a sweet, mellow taste. A popular fragrant tea variety includes Yunnan Jasmine, which is infused with the sweet scent of jasmine. Yunnan White Orchid tea consists of delightful orchid aromas. There are also smoked tea varieties available.

Some Yunnan tea varieties, such as Toucha, have also been highly reputed for their medicinal properties. With names like slimming tea, beauty tea, and healthy tea, they are thought to aid the body in eliminating fat and reducing weight. In addition, some Yunnan teas may help strengthen the body and stimulate metabolism. The tea may also be responsible for balancing and regulating cholesterol levels.

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Discussion Comments


Like many Americans, my first teas were lipton, red rose, tetley, etc. Once I realized there were really three readily available types, black, oolong and green, I started appreciating the different varieties. Then I found the varieties within each of those types and it was like finding craft beers as a beer drinker.

Now Yunnan teas are my favorite. I found them several years ago and they are my daily choice. Like others have said, it is a tea that is hard to make taste bitter. There are so many choices within the Yunnan type that it is hard to say which one is best. I think it becomes a personal preference.

My favorite is Grand Yunnan from T2Tea but it is $18US for 50 grams, which is pretty expensive for me. Kusmi Grand Yunnan is 18US for 250G's. But there are some local tea stores with nice Yunnan's too. One is a nice organic Yunnan that is about 12US for 100G's.

I think if you are new to tea you should try different varieties and brands (Not lipton, tetley, red rose, etc.)and see which one you like the most. I still like my Darjeelings, jasmines and my old standby, Prince of Wales. I think changing up the tea you drink makes you appreciate the subtleties more. I find I don't notice the subtle notes of a tea once I drink it every day for a while. I usually have two Yunnans, two Oolongs, two green teas (Jasmine and regular), a darjeeling and my old standby Twinings Prince of Wales and Irish and English Breakfast teas in the house. When I splurge once or twice a year and order the Grand Yunnan from T2Tea in Australia, I try to relish every cup like a page from a new book from a favorite author.

As a last note, I think tea is like certain veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and asparagus. If you make them right, they can be sweet, tasty morsels. Cook them wrong and you have bitter, sulphur tasting fiber or mush. I never pour hot water directly on my tea and I stick with loose tea so the tea is not ground to a powder for the bag. Try it in different strengths and find the way you like it.


@ysmina-- It sounds like Yunnan tea is perfect for you! I've never seen a Yunan tea go bitter on waiting, it doesn't really matter which brand, as long as it is 100% pure Yunan tea.

The reason some Yunnan tea is more expensive is not because it is necessarily a better type, but because it is more aged. Yunnan tea becomes more valuable and tastier as it waits, so the older it is, the more expensive it is.

I buy the Yunnan tea cakes that is sold at the Asian grocery store. These also have the production date on them, so you can determine how aged you want it to be. The tea is dried and kept in a cake shape and when you open it up, you break off as much as you need to make tea each time.

I think starting out, you can try different kinds. Even the Yunnan labeled teas at the regular grocery store are pretty good. Just check the ingredients to see if it has been blended with other teas.


I don't know too much about the variety of teas and how their flavors differ. I am a tea drinker but mainly non-caffeinated herbal types. I had a great cup of Yunnan black tea at a cafe the other day though, it was very mild and fresh tasting. It was so different than Lipton black tea which is the only kind of black tea that I saw at our household growing up.

I decided to get some online but there are so many different types of Yunnan black tea and many different brands. The higher priced ones are generally called "Gold Yunnan" or "Royal Yunnan" and I'm guessing those are the best quality. Do you have any other recommendations for me? I want a light and sweet tasting Yunnan tea that won't go bitter because I generally make a whole pot, have a cup or two and reheat the tea later in the day and have it again.

And is it okay to have Yunnan tea with cream or milk or is that uncommon?


I had read about how Yunnan tea was discovered in a cultural magazine and apparently, it was completely by chance. There was a Chinese emperor who felt that water was unclean and contaminated and insisted on only having boiled water.

When the emperor was traveling, he and his aids stopped to rest and the aids boiled water for the Emperor to drink. Several leaves of Yunan tea which was growing naturally nearby was carried by the wind and fell into the boiled water.

The Emperor drank the water which had become tea and really liked the flavor of it. So, Yunan tea, or tea in general was discovered and become the main drink in China soon after!

I don't know if this is true or a legend, but I'm so glad that it was discovered. I love Yunnan tea, I have it every morning.

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