The tea served at many Chinese restaurants is almost as good a reason to go as the food itself—sometimes it can really hit the spot. While mild, fragrant Chinese tea is as varied and diverse as French wine or German beer, there are a few common types that can recreate the delicate beverage at home.
All tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. The difference between, say, black tea and green tea, is the amount of oxidation allowed by the producer—oxidation is cut off early for green tea to preserve the mild flavor, while black tea is allowed to fully oxidize for a stronger flavor.
Oolong tea, or wu long, is partly oxidized; it's aromatic with only a hint of bitterness. One well-known variety, tieguanyin (pronounced "tee-goo-an-yin" or "tee-ay-goo-an-yin"), has a fruity, floral taste.
Brewed at a lower temperature than black tea, green tea has a delicate vegetal flavor that sometimes tastes a little like grass. Green tea is easy to recognize by its distinctive light green color, which can range from a slight yellow-green to a vibrant, grassy hue.
Jasmine tea has a characteristic jasmine scent, achieved by adding fresh jasmine blossoms to the tea as it dries. Any type of tea can be used to make jasmine tea, but most are either green or oolong.
Sometimes served in dim sum restaurants, pu-erh (usually pronounced "pu-are" or "pu-air," but may also be called "po-lei" or "bo-lay," according to the Cantonese pronunciation) is an aged tea from China's Yunnan province. It has a rich, earthy taste and a dark red-brown color. Aged pu-erh is considered a great delicacy by tea lovers, so it's usually too expensive to serve in most local dim sum restaurants.
Some tea manufacturers sell packaged "Chinese restaurant tea" bags. These typically contain blended teas—mixtures of oolong and green tea or pu-erh and chrysanthemum tea.