We’ve all been there.
You go to a Chinese restaurant and they bring you some tea. Usually it’s in a small pot that you use to fill your tiny cups.
You try some and it is incredible. Part of that is due to the atmosphere, but it’s also due to quality tea leaves that are brewed perfectly.
This means that you can recreate the experience at home.
But you need to get the right tea (loose leaf, no tea bags).
The problem is, different Chinese restaurants serve different types of tea. But there are a handful of types that are by far the most common.
The tea you enjoyed is almost certainly one of the types listed below.
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What Kind Of Tea Is Served In Chinese Restaurants?
In Chinese restaurants you are going to be served hot tea, unless you specifically request otherwise. You can get iced tea in any restaurant if you ask for it.
It will generally be served with traditional Chinese cups and a small pot filled with the tea will be left at your table. What kind of tea is going to be in the pot? That can vary. Let’s look at the most common types.
Green Tea With Jasmine
This is by far the most popular tea you will find in Asian restaurants, especially Chinese places. Jasmine tea has such a nice aroma and floral taste. It is my personal favorite flavored tea.
Jasmine tea can be made with any type of tea leaves (white, black, green, etc.), but green is most common and usually what you get in a Chinese restaurant.
It pairs well with jasmine, because the jasmine flower takes the lead. Even if the green tea is strong, the pleasant floral taste and aroma overpowers the earthy green tea vibe.
Green tea can have a very earthy flavor and it is easy to make it too strong. They should know what they are doing in a restaurant, but not always. It is easy to over-brew.
How is Green Jasmine Tea Made?
Jasmine tea can be made with any kind of basic tea leaves, but green tea leaves pair the best with the iconic jasmine flower smell and taste.
The tea is produced by combining jasmine flowers with the tea leaves of your choice, in this case green tea leaves.
Some jasmine teas will infuse the jasmine flowers with the tea leaves and then remove the flowers, while other teas will leave the flowers in the dried leaf mix. The best tasting teas are the ones that leave the flowers in the mix, in my opinion.
There are those who would argue that leaving the flowers in makes the tea too strong and too “jasminey” which I think is nonsense!
If you are curious which is the best green jasmine tea, read that article. It covers everything you need to know about jasmine green tea.
Oolong is an interesting tea that is served in many Chinese eateries for its unique and pleasing taste. What is so interesting about it you ask?
Well, oolong tea is not a green tea, nor is it a black tea. It is somewhere in between the two.
Green tea is not allowed to oxidize, which gives it its earthy classic green tea flavor. Black tea is oxidized (that is why it turns black, because of the exposure to oxygen).
Oolong tea is partially oxidized so its not quite black and not quite green. This is part of what gives it the unique oolong flavor vs black tea or green tea.
Like any tea, the flavor varies widely between types. Some oolong is only slightly oxidized and closer to a green tea, while other types are more fully oxidized and closer to a black tea. Each restaurant will have their favorite.
You may not know the name of this tea, but there is a chance you have drank some at a nice Asian restaurant at some time in your life.
This tea is instantly recognizable due to its deep red brownish color. You cannot mistake Pu-erh tea with green tea or black tea; it is too red!
Sometimes you may hear it referred to as boo-lay tea, which is the traditional Cantonese way to say it. This tea is a delicacy and can be expensive, so you are not going to get it free with your meal. Most fancy Chinese places will have it if you ask.
Pu-erh is an aged tea that was originally made in Yunnan province in China. It has a deep earthy taste, and it is revered by many lovers of Asian tea for its special buttery earthy taste and dark red brown color.
It goes very well with sweet dishes (I am saying this from experience). My favorite is Pu-erh tea with sweet and sour pork. It will blow your mind. If you ever get a chance to pair the two together, do it!
Read our post comparing pu’er and oolong tea for more on this variety and how it compares to other types of tea.
Good old fashioned green tea shows up all the time at restaurants. You will notice the classic light green color and earthy aroma.
Green tea is instantly recognizable, partially because it is so green and partially because it is so popular that almost everyone has been exposed to it.
A good green tea will taste genuinely nice with almost any Asian dish, but I like it especially well with spicy dishes, like General Tso’s Chicken. There is something so nice about that light earthy taste on the tongue after a spicy bite of hot food. It is so soothing.
Green tea is widely available and not expensive, so you are going to find it at almost any restaurant. It does not even have to be an Asian one.
It is not the most exciting tasting tea to come across, but if you need a little extra pizazz you can add some honey or sugar for some bonus sweetness. Personally, I prefer it hot, and plain, but that is just me.
In restaurants in China, it is always served plain. In fact, most simply put a few tea leaves in a glass or mug and pour hot water over them. They then serve you the tea with the leaves floating in the water.
Can you drink tea leaves? Yes, you can. They will do you no harm. The Chinese use their teeth to filter out the leaves, but it is not unusual for one or two to get through and end up in your stomach. Sometimes, they end up on your teeth too, similar to spinach.
Some of the big Chinese Restaurants will buy special blended teas which typically contain a mixture of oolong, green tea, or chrysanthemum flavors.
Because of the unique and pleasing flavors present in all those teas, it only makes sense to blend them together to form a delicious and more unique tea.
Many large tea manufacturers produce these blended teas and even call the creation “Chinese Restaurant Tea”.
By using all the popular flavors present in Chinese restaurants they can satisfy almost all the possibilities and give consumers exactly what they remember from their last visit to one.
It is a brilliant idea if you ask me, and many Asian restaurants use these blended teas as the free tea that comes with your meal.
In fact, there is a good chance you have drank “Chinese Restaurant” tea at some point while eating out. I have had it before when I bought some for myself and prepared it at home and it was delicious, if I am being honest. Even for a tea snob, it was wonderful!
Tea Served In Chinese Restaurants: Final Thoughts
Different Chinese restaurants serve different types of tea. But there are definitely some types that are the most common. All the teas listed above are commonly found in Chinese restaurants outside China.
Inside China, it is a different matter entirely. First of all, they are just restaurants there, so there is nothing special about them. And they usually serve different types of tea. Many serve cheap tea, but cheap tea in China is still generally very good.
No matter which tea you get, one thing is for certain: it will make you pee more than many other drinks. Read “Why does tea make you pee?” for more.
And one thing you will not find in China is instant tea. Not even the best instant teas exist there. Tea bags are rare as well. It’s basically just loose leaf tea, because that is the best way to have tea. Of course, this is not the case in Chinese restaurants in the US. Many will use tea bags.
Many years ago the Taiwan Garden in Charlottesville had the best tea I’ve ever had. I never could find what it was, but the waitress would give me a box of leaves once a month. My brew tasted exactly the same as theirs. I’ve never been able to buy one that tasted the same.